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Living under a tarp next to Facebook HQ: ‘I don’t want people to see me’

The sprawling Silicon Valley campus has cafes, bike repair services, even dry cleaning. But across the road a homeless community epitomizes the wealth gap

In a patch of scrubland across the road from the Facebook headquarters in Silicon Valley, a woman named Celma Aguilar recently walked along some overgrown train tracks. She stopped where a path forked into some vegetation, just a few hundred yardsfrom the tourists taking photos by an enormous image of a Like icon at the campus entrance.

Welcome to the mansion, Aguilar said, gesturing to a rudimentary shelter of tarps hidden in the undergrowth.

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The campsite is one of about 10 that dot the boggy terrain, and are a striking sight alongsidethe brightly painted, low-slung buildings housing the multi-billion-dollar corporation. The contrast epitomizes the Bay Area wealth gap.

Harold Schapelhouman, a fire chief whose department has dealt with conflagrations on the land, said he was struck by the disparities. Their employees are very well taken care of. They have on-site medical facilities, dry cleaning, bicycle repair, they feed them and there are restaurants that are there. Its amazing what Facebook does for its employees. And yet within eyeshot it really isnt that far there are people literally living in the bushes.

Schapelhouman said he was not blaming Facebook, though it is true that the success of technology companies has driven up real estate prices in the area. As a whole, California is one of the lowest-ranking US states for the availability of affordable housing, and has one-fifth of Americas homeless population. Irrespective of the utopianism that imbues Silicon Valley culture, the tech campuses are not immune to these broader social problems.

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An aerial view of the Facebook campus on the edge of the San Francisco Bay. The land that the homeless encampments are on lies across the main road. Photograph: Noah Berger / Reuters/Reuters

Aguilar, 44, said she was aware of the Facebook HQ, though she wasnt quite sure what happened there as it always seemed so quiet. Can I get a job there? So I can get out from here.

The land where the encampments are located belongs largely to the state and private owners, and it takes 10 minutes to walk from one end to the other. Aguilar pointed out a pond, covered with scum, at which she said she sometimes washed. One campsite spills out from a huge clump of marshy greenery. Another is reached via a railway sleeper slung across a strip of water where a number of bike frames are submerged.

Salvadorian by birth, Aguilar said she once worked in nursing homes and at Burger King, and had four children. She said she had been homeless for about three years as a result of a crystal meth addiction, and thought she suffered from mental illness. Can you see how the trees move? she said as she sat on the rusted train tracks. I like to think theyre talking to me.

Friend requests and instant messages presumably zing back and forth on the other side of the street christened Hacker Way, but Aguilar said she had lost her Facebook password. No matter what I do they dont want to give it back to me.

A man named Rafael Barajas Ortiz, living in a lean-to amid mud and trash, said that, like Aguilar, he had no phone. Another resident opened the door of his shelter, which was blocked off by fencing made of woven branches, and said I dont use Facebook, before declining to be interviewed further.

Passing by on his bike, a local named Jesus said he did log on to the site, but he faced a problem familiar to many homeless people: he had nowhere to charge his phone. (He showed the Guardian his profile. The public pictures offered no hint he was on the streets.)

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A homeless encampment near Facebook headquarters. Photograph: Alastair Gee for the Guardian

Although it is not widely known, phone ownership and even social media usage are relatively common among homeless people, even if not those living next to Facebook. One Bay Area survey of around 250 homeless people found that 62% had phones. A study of homeless youth in Los Angeles indicated that more than three-quarters used social media.

Devices and service plans are readily available because the federal government offers subsidized cellular service to low-income Americans. It is known as the Obamaphone program both to its users and its rightwing critics, but in fact it originated as a landline subsidy during the Reagan era. The minimum standards specify 500 minutes per month of talk time or 500 megabytes of 3G data, and consumers can get a combination of them.

They use the phone for exactly the same reasons we use it, said Allan Baez, who launched a program that involved giving hundreds of free, Google-donated phones to homeless people. The cameras are particularly popular. They are individuals, they have kids, they have friends, they have good moments, and you take pictures.

A Facebook spokesperson declined to comment on the encampments, though he noted that the companys investments in local affordable housing include an $18.5m commitment announced late last year. Otherwise, the county provides an array of homeless services, and its homeless numbers have dipped a moderate amount, according to a 2015 count.

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The sign welcoming visitors to Facebooks campus. The company recently said it would invest $18.5m in local affordable housing. Photograph: Bloomberg/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Standing amid waving grass near a campsite, Gonzalo Apale, in a filthy jacket and work boots, described social media access as almost a marker of his progress in life. Ill try to get a telephone very soon, Ill use Facebook again, he said with optimism.

Still, he tries to avoid walking on the same side of the road as the Facebook campus because I dont want people to see me like this, he said. Because they are clean and everything.

Towards sunset, Aguilar took a path that spiraled up a small hill to a clearing littered with detritus.

Im going to make my house here, she explained, gesturing at a partially unfurled tent. The Facebook campus was visible through the tops of the bushes. Preferably, she said, it would not be.

The trees will grow and no one will see me.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/mar/31/facebook-campus-homeless-tent-city-menlo-park-california


Get outta town: startup offers workers $10,000 if they ‘delocate’ from Silicon Valley

Offer from Zapier comes as high-paid tech workers in Bay Area have complained about the cost of living in a region that suffers from a major housing shortage

A Silicon Valley startup is paying employees $10,000 to leave Silicon Valley.

Zapier, an automation company founded in 2011, has announced that it is offering new recruits a hefty de-location package if theyre willing to move away from the Bay Area, an unusual perk that offers yet another sign of the worsening housing crisis in northern California.

Zapier, where all employees work remotely, recently announced that if current Bay Area residents were interested in improving their familys standard of living by relocating, the firm would provide $10,000 in moving reimbursements. Since CEO Wade Foster posted about the package last week, the uptick in applicants has been dramatic, he said in an interview.

A lot of folks just have a difficult time making the Bay Area a long-term home, he said, noting that the firm heard from roughly 150 job applicants over the weekend, including 50 who specifically mentioned the de-location offer. Housing is really challenging.

The offer from Zapier comes as high-paid tech workers in San Francisco and Silicon Valley have increasingly complained about the high cost of living in a region that suffers from a major housing shortage. Tech workers earning between $100,000 and $700,000 recently spoke to the Guardian about their real estate struggles, and one study suggested that for some engineers, more than 50% of their salary goes to rent.

By many measures, San Francisco has the priciest real estate in the country.

The housing crisis has had devastating impacts on low-income neighborhoods, particularly communities of color, as the growth of companies like Facebook, Google, Apple and Twitter have helped spur mass evictions, homelessness and displacement.

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Wade Foster, Zapiers CEO: A lot of folks just have a difficult time making the Bay Area a long-term home. Photograph: Zapier

But middle-class and wealthier tech workers have also spoken up about their difficulties buying homes and raising families near their jobs, leading to articles about the next Silicon Valley emerging in regions across the US, including Texas, the Pacific northwest and the Midwest.

Foster said he wanted to take advantage of tech workers desire to leave the Bay Area by offering a competitive package to those on the fence about staying in the region.

The Bay Area is a great place to live. Its fun to be here, said Foster, 30, who lives with his wife in Sunnyvale, a city located near the Facebook and Google campuses. At the end of the day, if you cant make the money side of it work, folks seem to be looking elsewhere.

Foster said he got the idea after two recent hires decided to move out of the Bay Area to Florida and Pennsylvania to be closer to their families. Weve basically just flipped relocation assistance on its head.

The $10,000 offer from Zapier a platform that connects apps to automate tasks and now employs 85 people bucks a number of trends in Silicon Valley hiring.

Facebook faced criticisms for accelerating gentrification and worsening the housing crunch when it offered employees $10,000 to leave near its Menlo Park campus. In 2013, Yahoo made headlines when it banned employees from working at home, arguing that communication in an office setting was critical.

Foster said he has long embraced remote working and that more startups should consider the model given how many talented workers want to move away from the epicenter of the industry.

Weve seen the technology advance to a state where people can legitimately work anywhere in the world, he said, noting that his staff is global, with clusters of employees in Austin, Portland and the Bay Area.

Foster said he enjoys living in Silicon Valley, but he doesnt know how long hell stay either. As we start to think about a family ourselves, its a decision were weighing.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/mar/22/zapier-pay-employees-move-silicon-valley-startup


The financial benefits of the EPA data Trump doesn’t want you to know about

Making EPA data easily accessible to the private sector plays a significant role in many billion-dollar industries, from renewable energy to auto manufacturing

For more than 25 years, Walter Hang has helped local governments, engineers and homeowners make sense of hazardous waste. To do that, he digs into the enormous data vault maintained by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and pinpoints information that is useful for his clients to assess the health and financial risks from nearby industrial properties and toxic waste sites.

Hang, who runs Toxics Targeting, now fears this trove of knowledge will become more difficult to access as the EPAs newly minted chief, Scott Pruitt, begins a broad rollback of regulations and shrinks the agencys staff. President Trump has vowed to weaken the EPA, contending that its rules for protecting public health stifle business development. The Trump administration has already eliminated or buried some information on EPA websites and moved to muzzle agency employees.

What Trump doesnt acknowledge is that EPA data isnt just an enforcement tool. The agency employs more scientists than any other government agency except Nasa. Decades of work by those scientists have generated valuable information about air and water pollution, chemical toxicity and hazardous waste cleanup. This information has enabled businesses to develop new products and services and create jobs in the process.

No one has estimated the financial benefits of making EPA data easily accessible to the private sector. But anecdotal evidence shows it plays a significant role in many billion-dollar industries, from lending and real estate to renewable energy development and auto designs and manufacturing. For example, chemical companies use the data to come up with less toxic compounds for dyeing textiles.

Banks wont loan money to a property developer without ensuring that the land is free of contamination, which can be an expensive liability. They rely on pollution data from the EPA, says Hang, who compiles the information into reports for companies in real estate development and transaction.

We are trying to make sure we get as much data as we can, and were trying to make sure we dont have data gaps, Hang says.

Hang isnt alone in worrying about access. Several campaigns, carried out mostly by university professors and students, to download and secure EPA data have sprung up since the November election. One of the first of such efforts began not in the US but in Canada. Matt Price, a history professor at the University of Toronto, helped organize guerrilla archiving events in December. Offering free pizza and coffee, these events recruited a small army of volunteers who began downloading EPA data to secure servers.

Price says he and his colleagues sprang into action after experiencing their own war on science by former Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper, a conservative who slashed funding for science and ended important environmental monitoring projects. Price and others stepped up to preserve Canadian environmental data during that crisis.

We probably focused immediately on the EPA because of the extremely hostile language that came out of the Trump campaign around the EPA, says Price. We have put a kind of faith in the state as the long term guarantor of the integrity of scientific data. I think that faith may be misplaced.

Many companies rely on the agencys data to build products that tackle some of the biggest health and environmental problems. They sign research and development agreements with the EPA, which provides technical assistance in return for a share of any sales a company generates as a result.

EPA had 97 such contracts active in 2015, which yielded $232,318 in royalties for the agency. The previous year, 129 contracts produced royalties of $438,786.

Aclima, a San Francisco company that develops air-quality sensors and software, is working with the EPA to improve the devices sensitivity in detecting pollution. EPA air pollution data, gathered for decades at a regional scale, serves as an important reference and quality check for the company. Aclima has partnered with Google to collect air quality data by putting its mobile sensors on the StreetView cars that Google uses to create its maps. It plans to offer the resulting data to the public later this year.

Aclima CEO Davida Herzl says the EPAs air pollution data plays a foundational role in everything the company does. Anytime we lose information that is important to public health, that is a concern, Herzl says. It would be a massive blow to the business community in ways that arent always discussed. Innovation and private sector research is happening on top of that foundation of science that EPA has been developing for over 30 years now.

Even businesses that are set to benefit from Trumps plan to loosen environmental regulations are worried about losing access to EPA data, which they need for complying with state or local laws and for their own internal accounting of efficiency and performance, says Gretchen Goldman, research director at the Center for Science and Democracy, a program at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

The American Gas Association, which represents natural gas distribution utilities, recently notified members to download any EPA data they need in case it is removed from the agencys website. Pam Lacey, the associations chief regulatory counsel, says gas utilities use EPA data and other online resources to track methane emissions, a potent greenhouse gas. The data shows distributors have cut methane emissions by 74% since 1990.

They continue to do more work and theyd like to be able to keep the data that demonstrates what theyve done and what theyre doing on an ongoing basis, Lacey says. Also, some companies have their own internal goals for sustainability, and they would want to use that official EPA data.

None of the EPA data has been restricted or eliminated yet, say the scientists involved in the data backup campaigns, but they arent taking any chances. Their concern stretches beyond protecting existing EPA data, however. Major budget cuts, if implemented, means the agency may be unable to collect new data.

EPA officials within the Trump administration did not respond to a request for comment.

Their goal is to defund programs that gather data, says Jared Blumenfeld, former administrator of EPA Region 9 (California, Nevada, Arizona and Hawaii), who left the agency in May 2016. Its much, much harder in a digital age to get rid of data. Its a lot easier to not fund science so you dont have the data in the first place.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2017/mar/15/epa-data-trump-benefits


Robots won’t just take our jobs they’ll make the rich even richer

Robotics and artificial intelligence will continue to improve but without political change such as a tax, the outcome will range from bad to apocalyptic

Should robots pay taxes?

It may sound strange, but a number of prominent people have been asking this question lately. As fears about the impact of automation grow, calls for a robot tax are gaining momentum. Earlier this month, the European parliament considered one for the EU. Benot Hamon, the French Socialist party presidential candidate who is often described as his countrys Bernie Sanders, has put a robot tax in his platform. Even Bill Gates recently endorsed the idea.

The proposals vary, but they share a common premise. As machines and algorithms get smarter, theyll replace a widening share of the workforce. A robot tax could raise revenue to retrain those displaced workers, or supply them with a basic income.

The good news is that the robot apocalypse hasnt arrived just yet. Despite a steady stream of alarming headlines about clever computers gobbling up our jobs, the economic data suggests that automation isnt happening on a large scale. The bad news is that if it does, it will produce a level of inequality that will make present-day America look like an egalitarian utopia by comparison.

The real threat posed by robots isnt that they will become evil and kill us all, which is what keeps Elon Musk up at night its that they will amplify economic disparities to such an extreme that life will become, quite literally, unlivable for the vast majority. A robot tax may or may not be a useful policy tool for averting this scenario. But its a good starting point for an important conversation. Mass automation presents a serious political problem one that demands a serious political solution.

Automation isnt new. In the late 16th century, an English inventor developed a knitting machine known as the stocking frame. By hand, workers averaged 100 stitches per minute; with the stocking frame, they averaged 1,000. This is the basic pattern, repeated through centuries: as technology improves, it reduces the amount of labor required to produce a certain number of goods.

So far, however, this phenomenon hasnt produced extreme unemployment. Thats because automation can create jobs as well as destroy them. One recent example is bank tellers: ATMs began to appear in the 1970s, but the total number of tellers has actually grown since then. As ATMs made it cheaper to run a branch, banks opened more branches, leading to more tellers overall. The job description has changed todays tellers spend more time selling financial services than dispensing cash but the jobs are still there.

Whats different this time is the possibility that technology will become so sophisticated that there wont be anything left for humans to do. What if your ATM could not only give you a hundred bucks, but sell you an adjustable-rate mortgage? While the current rhetoric around artificial intelligence is overhyped, there have been meaningful advances over the past several years. And its not inconceivable that much bigger breakthroughs are on the horizon. Instead of merely transforming work, technology might begin to eliminate it. Instead of making it possible to create more wealth with less labor, automation might make it possible to create more wealth without labor.

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A fully automated economy would make workers not just redundant, but powerless. Photograph: Lluis Gene/AFP/Getty Images

Whats so bad about wealth without labor? It depends on who owns the wealth. Under capitalism, wages are how workers receive a portion of what they produce. That portion has always been small, relative to the rewards that flow to the owners of capital. And over the past several decades, its gotten smaller: the share of the national income that goes to wages has been steadily shrinking, while the share that goes to capital has been growing. Technology has made workers more productive, but the profits have trickled up, not down. Productivity increased by 80.4% between 1973 and 2011, but the real hourly compensation of the median worker went up by only 10.7%.

As bad as this is, mass automation threatens to make it much worse. If you think inequality is a problem now, imagine a world where the rich can get richer all by themselves. Capital liberated from labor means not merely the end of work, but the end of the wage. And without the wage, workers lose their only access to wealth not to mention their only means of survival. They also lose their primary source of social power. So long as workers control the point of production, they can shut it down. The strike is still the most effective weapon workers have, even if they rarely use it any more. A fully automated economy would make them not just redundant, but powerless.

Meanwhile, robotic capital would enable elites to completely secede from society. From private jets to private islands, the rich already devote a great deal of time and expense to insulating themselves from other people. But even the best fortified luxury bunker is tethered to the outside world, so long as capital needs labor to reproduce itself. Mass automation would make it possible to sever this link. Equipped with an infinite supply of workerless wealth, elites could seal themselves off in a gated paradise, leaving the unemployed masses to rot.

If that scenario isnt bleak enough, consider the possibility that mass automation could lead not only to the impoverishment of working people, but to their annihilation. In his book Four Futures, Peter Frase speculates that the economically redundant hordes outside the gates would only be tolerated for so long. After all, they might get restless and thats a lot of possible pitchforks. What happens if the masses are dangerous but are no longer a working class, and hence of no value to the rulers? Frase writes. Someone will eventually get the idea that it would be better to get rid of them. He gives this future an appropriately frightening name: exterminism, a world defined by the genocidal war of the rich against the poor.

These dystopias may sound like science fiction, but theyre perfectly plausible given our current trajectory. The technology around robotics and artificial intelligence will continue to improve but without substantive political change, the outcome will range from bad to apocalyptic for most people. Thats why the recent rumblings about a robot tax are worth taking seriously. They offer an opportunity to develop the political response to mass automation now, before its too late.

When I asked the prominent leftwing thinker Matt Bruenig for his thoughts, he explained that whatever we do, we shouldnt try to discourage automation. The problem with robots is not the manufacturing and application of them thats actually good for productivity, he told me. The problem is that they are owned by the wealthy, which means that the income that flows to the robots go out to a small slice of wealthy people.

Job-killing robots are good, in other words, so long as the prosperity they produce is widely distributed. An Oxfam report released earlier this year revealed that the eight richest men in the world own as much wealth as half the human race. Imagine what those numbers will look like if automation accelerates. At some point, a handful of billionaires could control close to one hundred percent of societys wealth. Then, perhaps, the idea that wealth should be owned by the many, rather than monopolized by the few, wont seem so radical, and we can undertake a bit of sorely needed redistribution before robot capitalism kills us all.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/mar/02/robot-tax-job-elimination-livable-wage


Scraping by on six figures? Tech workers feel poor in Silicon Valley’s wealth bubble

Big tech companies pay some of the countrys best salaries. But workers claim the high cost of living in the Bay Area has them feeling financially strained

I didnt become a software engineer to be trying to make ends meet, said a Twitter employee in his early 40s who earns a base salary of $160,000. It is, he added, a pretty bad income for raising a family in the Bay Area.

The biggest cost is his $3,000 rent which he said was ultra cheap for the area for a two-bedroom house in San Francisco, where he lives with his wife and two kids. Hed like a slightly bigger property, but finds himself competing with groups of twentysomethings happy to share accommodation while paying up to $2,000 for a single room.

Families are priced out of the market, he said, adding that family-friendly cafes and restaurants have slowly been replaced by hip coffee shops.

Silicon Valleys latest tech boom, combined with a housing shortage, has caused rents to soar over the last five years. The citys rents, by one measure, are now the highest in the world.

The prohibitive costs have displaced teachers, city workers, firefighters and other members of the middle class, not to mention low-income residents.

Now techies, many of whom are among the highest 1% of earners, are complaining that they, too, are being priced out.

The Twitter employee said he hit a low point in early 2014 when the company changed its payroll schedule, leaving him with a hole in his budget. I had to borrow money to make it through the month.

He was one of several tech workers, earning between $100,000 and $700,000 a year, who vented to the Guardian about their financial situation. Almost all of them spoke only on the condition of anonymity, or agreed only to give their first names, fearing retribution by their employers for speaking publicly about their predicament.

The American dream is not working out here

Complaints from well-compensated tech workers will sound like chutzpah to many of the other 99% who are struggling to get by on a fraction of their income. But there appears to be a growing frustration among tech workers who say that they are struggling to get by.

Facebook engineers last year even raised the issue with founder Mark Zuckerberg, asking whether the company could subsidize their rents to make their living situation more affordable, according to an executive at the company who has since departed.

The cost of housing is a common complaint among Bay Area techies. Engineers can expect, according to one analysis, to pay between 40% and 50% of their salary renting an apartment near work.

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Twitter headquarters in San Francisco. Photograph: Bloomberg/Bloomberg via Getty Images

One Apple employee was recently living in a Santa Cruz garage, using a compost bucket as a toilet. Another tech worker, enrolled in a coding bootcamp, described how he lived with 12 other engineers in a two-bedroom apartment rented via Airbnb. It was $1,100 for a fucking bunk bed and five people in the same room. One guy was living in a closet, paying $1,400 for a private room.

We make over $1m between us, but we cant afford a house, said a woman in her 50s who works in digital marketing for a major telecoms corporation, while her partner works as an engineer at a digital media company. This is part of where the American dream is not working out here.

The prospect of losing her job and not having health insurance is a particular concern, given that she had cancer a couple of years ago. If Obamacare goes away and I lose my job I am deeply screwed, she said.

Michelle, a 28-year-old tech worker who earns a six-figure salary at a data science startup said her only chance of buying a home would be if she combined income with a partner. For all the feminist movement of you can do it all, the concept of home ownership is really truly out of reach, she said. For me thats disheartening.

Another tech worker feeling excluded from the real estate market was 41-year-old Michael, who works at a networking firm in Silicon Valley and last year earned $700,000. Sick of his 22-mile commute to work, which can sometimes take up to two and half hours, he explored buying a property nearer work.

We went to an open house in Los Gatos that would shorten my commute by eight miles. It was 1,700 sq ft and listed at $1.4m. It sold in 24 hours for $1.7m, he said.

Although he said his salary means he can afford to live a decent life, he finds the cost of living, combined with the terrible commute, unpalatable. Hes had enough, and has accepted a 50% pay cut to relocate to San Diego.

We will be unequivocally better off than we are now. He said he wont miss some of the more mundane day-to-day costs, like spending $8 on a bagel and coffee or $12 on freshly pressed juice.

Michael isnt the only tech worker considering leaving Silicon Valley in search of a better life. A Canadian IT specialist in his late 40s, earning more than $200,000, has a similar plan. When I came to the Bay Area the amount of money they were going to pay me seemed absurd, he said. However, the cost of rent and childcare, which cost more than I paid for my university education in Canada, has been hard to swallow.

Sam, 40, lives with his wife and three kids in San Jose, earning around $120,000 a year at a multinational software company. I get paid a very good wage, but I have three kids, childcare is ridiculously expensive so my wife mostly takes care of them, he said.

He feels pressure being the sole breadwinner. Ive got no safety net, he said. I have credit cards, but this is not sustainable. If something bad happened Id be out of the house in a month.

Glaring inequality

Fred Sherburn Zimmer from San Franciscos Housing Rights Committee agreed that housing is too expensive in the Bay Area, but points out that there are much graver consequences for people not working in tech.

For a senior whose healthcare is down the street, moving might be a death sentence, she said. For an immigrant family with two kids, moving out of a sanctuary city like San Francisco means you could get deported. She described a building in San Francisco where there are 28 people living in studio-like closets in a basement, including a senior and families with children.

For their part, many well-paid tech workers complaining about their own predicament say they also sympathize with the plight of people on more ordinary incomes.

We think a lot about how people with normal jobs afford to live here, said the Canadian IT specialist. The answer is: they dont. They commute from farther and farther afield.

The digital marketer added: During the first dotcom boom we had secretaries commuting three hours into work Its happening again. It was absurd then and its absurd now, she said, adding that she and her husband both know what its like to be poor.

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A man walks by a homeless woman sleeping on the sidewalk San Franciscos Tenderloin district. Photograph: Gabrielle Lurie for the Guardian

Sam, who works at the software company, isnt optimistic about the future. The only solution I see is a huge reset and weve already done that once in the last decade. It was really painful for a lot of people, including myself, he said, referring to the dotcom crash in the early 2000s.

Some tech workers expressed a sense of guilt about their complaints when so many people are worse off, including San Franciscos desperate homeless population.

You are literally stepping over people to get to your job to make hundreds of thousands of dollars, said Michael. How do you go about your daily life as if it doesnt matter?

He suggested venture capitalists should stop investing in stupid applications and funnel some money into solving real societal problems like homelessness.

You are caught in this really uncomfortable position. You feel very guilty seeing such poverty and helplessness, added Michelle, the 28-year-old on a six-figure wage. But what are you supposed to do? Not make a lot of money? Not advocate for yourself and then not afford to live here?

Sam agreed. The whiny millennial snowflake type would say youre a terrible person making things worse for us. The truth is, if I gave up, what would I do? Should I knit sweaters and trade them?

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/feb/27/silicon-aa-cost-of-living-crisis-has-americas-highest-paid-feeling-poor


Brad Stone: We should watch Uber and Airbnb closely

The author of new book The Upstarts on how the new breed of tech startups changed the rules of the game

At the start of the book you note that the dictionary definition of an upstart is either a newly successful person or someone who does not show proper respect to the established way of doing things
I wanted to frame the defining question of the book for the reader. Are these brilliant entrepreneurs who have built tremendous businesses through sheer creativity and ingenuity? Or are they renegades that grew in large part through contempt for the status quo? Theres an ambivalence that surrounds companies like Uber and Airbnb, and I think this question over their identity and the dual meanings of the word upstart gets to the heart of it. My own squishy answer, of course, is that they are a little bit of both.

Youve written about Silicon Valley for more than 20 years have we reached peak Valley yet?
In terms of the business impact, I dont think so. Theres a new set of transformative technologies such as machine learning, AI and virtual reality that will spawn another set of big tech franchises. But in terms of cultural impact, perhaps we are at peak Valley. For decades, technology entrepreneurship has been revered, and people like Steve Jobs and Elon Musk were heroes. Now we have to contend with lost jobs due to automation, the effects of digital addiction and simple fatigue with all this constant change. So perhaps our feelings toward Silicon Valley are about to get a lot more complicated.

You met some of the individuals who had similar startup ideas to Uber and Airbnb but didnt become billionaires. Have these people been able to move on and were they reluctant to be featured?
I call these companies the non-starters. They had the same ideas but were too early, or too nice, or too idealistic. They all shared a strain of wistful regret; it is difficult to see someone else execute the same idea and win unimaginable success and riches. The best story was the founder of a company called Seamless Wheels a pre-Uber limo service who abandoned the business after getting a death threat on his voice mail, probably from a limo fleet owner.

Whats the best call Travis Kalanick has ever made?
Surrendering in China in an expensive battle with local rival, Didi Chuxing. Last year Uber lost $2bn trying to win that market; Kalanick couldnt bring himself to sacrifice his dream of building a truly global network. But the rules of competition in China will always favour the local champion and Didi, it turned out, had the same access to capital as Uber. By stepping away from the fight, Uber not only saved its balance sheet from more destruction but negotiated an impressive 17% stake in its rival.

And the best call Brian Chesky has made?
Branding the Airbnb user base as a community. For years before Airbnb, people posted their homes and spare rooms on the internet (via sites like Craigslist and Couchsurfing.com). Chesky and his colleagues drummed up an evangelical spirit to their endeavour and held meet-ups and, in later years, global conferences of hosts. It got Airbnb users to feel part of something larger and strengthened their ties to the company, even when it meant that they were violating provincial laws.

In most territories these firms operate outside of laws and regulations around minimum wages, health and safety, and tax collection has exploiting these loopholes been key to their success?
Absolutely just as Amazons navigation of its sales tax obligations was key to its success over its first decade. With tough interpretation of taxi and zoning regulations, neither Uber nor Airbnb would have gotten started. By the time many cities recognized their existence, both were fairly large and had the political support of their customers.

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Black cab and licensed taxi drivers protest the introduction of Uber in London, June 2014. Photograph: Gareth Fuller/PA

After publication of your book about Jeff Bezos and Amazon, Bezoss wife gave the book a one-star review on Amazon Were you surprised?
I can still remember the moment I saw it my coffee cup froze midair in my hand, my mouth configured itself into an expression conveying shock and confusion. Jeffs wife had never made such a public statement before related to the depiction of Amazon. And she was alleging serious mistakes in the book yet listed only one relatively trivial one. I think it might be the most prominent product review in the grand history of Amazon! Of course in the long run, perversely, it did nothing but boost the books prominence and turbo-charge sales.

Did you witness much sharing in the sharing economy?
Certainly some hosts on Airbnb are opening up their spare bedrooms to meet new people; and some drivers use Uber to carpool with strangers for the companionship. But the most productive members of each community are professional operators, making available their homes or cars as a way to earn or supplement a living. Its not the sharing economy at all, though that phrase has been useful for the companies to bolster their image.

Which sectors have been able to embrace upstarts disruption with any success?
The auto industry. Upstarts like Tesla have achieved enormous success but havent slowed down the car companies 2015 was their best year ever. The auto giants are all researching autonomous vehicles alongside the likes of Google and Uber and they could conceivably get there first. The real estate market has also remained fairly impervious to disruption, as well as (to everyones consternation) the airline industry. Perhaps an industrys immunity is related to the size of each individual transaction.

You state that the founders of Airbnb and Uber are very different from Bill Gates, Larry Page and Mark Zuckerberg How?
For all their strengths, Gates, Page and Zuckerberg are not charismatic communicators or storytellers. They generally avoided the press and focused their attentions inward. Chesky and Kalanick couldnt get away with that. Early on, they faced regulatory fights that their predecessors never encountered until much later. This took skills like mustering political coalitions, enlisting the support of customers and testifying publicly. They had to be politicians, as well as innovators and managers.

Are the fortunes and efficiencies created by these companies worth the price paid by the disrupted?
I think so as long as they follow on their promises. Uber has pledged to reduce or eliminate traffic in major cities within five years and to treat drivers more equitably. Airbnb thinks it can create a new industry where people are paid to provide authentic travel experiences. It has also set out to eradicate racial bias from its platform. Lets watch these companies closely and make sure they achieve their goals, instead of replacing one set of distant, dominant companies with another.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/jan/29/brad-stone-not-sharing-economy-upstarts-book-interview-airbnb-uber


John McCain says US has no strategy to deal with Russian cyber warfare

In audio obtained by the Guardian, McCain says it is the one aspect of our confrontation where adversaries are ahead

John McCain warned that the Trump administration is unprepared to deal with Russian attempts to influence elections in France and European countries in the coming months.

In audio obtained by the Guardian of the 2008 presidential nominee speaking at the congressional retreat in Philadelphia, the Arizona senator said we dont have a policy and we dont have a strategy for Russian cyber warfare. He said it is the one aspect of our confrontation where I believe our adversaries are ahead of us, adding it is a hell of a lot of easier to offense in cyber than defense.

France is holding its first round of presidential elections in April and far right nationalist Marine Le Pen is leading in opinion polls. Le Pens party, the National Front, is currently facing scrutiny over its ties to Russian banks and she has insisted that Russias occupation of Crimea was legitimate. The 2014 invasion of Crimea drew international condemnation and led to international sanctions against Russia.

McCain, who stated matter of factly that we do know the Russians were trying to influence the outcome of our election, also warned that he didnt know what Trumps policy was towards Russia. The hawkish McCain described Putin as a KGB criminal and suggested Ronald Reagans approach to Russia of peace through strength was the appropriate template today.

McCain broadly took a pessimistic view of foreign affairs in 2017. I could make a coherent, cogent argument that the world is more dangerous than any time in the last 70 years, said MCain, who chairs the Senate armed services committee. There are pressures on the new world order that was established in 1947 and 1948, the likes of which we have never seen.

He told attendees he believed President Trump will probably be tested by one or more of these forces around the world, whether it be North Koreans, Iranians, the Chinese or the Russians and expressed his hope that all of his colleagues will support a response which is proportionate and will also tell Vladimir Putin, the ayatollahs and the Chinese that there is a new team in town.

McCain though was full of praise for many of Trumps cabinet picks. He told colleagues the national security team that president Trump has assembled is as strong or better than any Ive ever seen. He had particular praise for newly confirmed secretary of defense James Mattis. Im not sure if one person can have a profound effect but if anyone can have a profound effect it is General Mattis, said McCain.

He also seemed to welcome Mike Flynn, Trumps controversial selection for national security adviser. What a nice change from Susan Rice to General Flynn, McCain said of the transition from Obamas adviser to Trumps selection.

McCain is notably not close to Trump. The president mocked the Arizona senator in 2015 for being a prisoner of war, saying hes a war hero because he was captured? I like people who werent captured, and McCain only backed Trump after the real estate developer became the GOP nominee.

However, he has been enthusiastic about many of Trumps cabinet choices in foreign policy and offered the White House crucial support in advancing the nomination of state department nominee Rex Tillerson.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/jan/27/john-mccain-says-us-has-no-strategy-to-deal-with-russian-cyber-warfare


Donald Trump mistakes Ivanka from Brighton for his daughter

President-elect mistakenly retweets praise for a Brighton council worker with the same first name as his daughter, leading to Twitter storm

A woman from Brighton is waking up to chaos on Twitter after having been singled out by Donald Trump as his daughter.

The president-elect quoted a praiseworthy tweet directed to him by Lawrence Goodstein, a Twitter user in Seekonk in Massachusetts, that described his daughter Ivanka as a woman with real character and class late on Monday.

But Goodstein had mistakenly put @Ivanka, not @IvankaTrump not a significant mistake in light of Goodsteins 160-odd followers; of far greater consequence circulated by Trump to his 20.1m.

So Trumps shout-out was instead directed to Ivanka Majic, a council worker from Brighton, England, with just over 2,800 followers.

Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump)

@drgoodspine: @realDonaldTrump @Ivanka Trump is great, a woman with real character and class.”

January 17, 2017

Ivanka Majic from Brighton, England, is a wonderful woman. Youre right, replied Mark Pygas, a writer for Distractify, to Trump and Goodstein. RIP her mentions though.

I mean, shes probably trying to sleep and her phone is going off the hook but its a hell of a story. (According to a subsequent screenshot tweeted by Pygas, Goodstein blocked him for pointing out the error and made his account private.)

Mark Pygas (@MarkPygas)

@realDonaldTrump @drgoodspine @ivanka Ivanka Majic from Brighton, England, is a wonderful woman. You’re right. RIP her mentions though. pic.twitter.com/FH4f2KMOQU

January 17, 2017

Trump had not deleted his tweet nor acknowledged his mistake at time of writing, though Goodstein made his account private.

It had been retweeted 2,800 times and favourited 15,000 times, with more than 4,600 replies the vast majority of them including Majic.

The Guardian has attempted to contact Majic, believed to be employed as a researcher at the Brighton and Hove City Council.

Her profile suggests she is not as active a user of Twitter as the president-elect, with just six tweets most of them retweets in the past week.

Her last activity on Twitter was a retweet encouraging votes in Brightons upcoming restaurant competition and another publicising another residents appeal for return of her lost house keys.

On Saturday Majic had tweeted a link to a news story in The Argus about Brightons thriving food scene: Made the local paper. Fame at last!

Ivanka Majic (@ivanka)

Made the local paper. Fame at last! https://t.co/qs9M61IlEc @bravofoodawards @XDBPhotography @edofcopy @prykey24 @EatBrighton

January 13, 2017

Meanwhile, Ivanka Trump seemed oblivious to the compliment paid to her by the Twitter user Goodstein and co-signed by her father, sharing a photo of #datenight with her 2.74m followers.

Ivanka Trump (@IvankaTrump)

bright lights, big city #datenight pic.twitter.com/XclaOxvus4

January 17, 2017

Ivanka Trump had been the subject of a special report that broadcast on CNN on Monday night that her father had expressed concerns about.

At 9:00 P.M. @CNN, of all places, is doing a Special Report on my daughter, Ivanka. Considering it is CNN, cant imagine it will be great!

Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump)

At 9:00 P.M. @CNN, of all places, is doing a Special Report on my daughter, Ivanka. Considering it is CNN, can’t imagine it will be great!

January 17, 2017

As president, Donald Trump will have the option of taking over the official @POTUS handle or maintaining his own, @realDonaldTrump. With 20.1m followers hanging on his every missive compared to @POTUSs 13.5m, Trump himself has given no indication he will make the switch.

Sean Spicer, the incoming White House press secretary, told CNN earlier in January that Trump would probably be tweeting from both, or whatever he chooses.

Last week BuzzFeed News publicised concerns that Trumps shockingly insecure personal Twitter account had no known special security protections and was open to being exploited with potentially devastating impacts for the stock market and geopolitical stability.

It would not be the first time Trumps account has been hacked before: in 2013, when he was best-known as a real estate tycoon and host of The Apprentice, someone reportedly gained access to his account to tweet Lil Wayne lyrics (These hoes think they classy, well thats the class Im skippen, from the remix of will.i.am and Britney Spears Scream & Shout).

My Twitter has been seriously hacked— and we are looking for the perpetrators, said Trump at the time.

Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump)

My Twitter has been seriously hacked— and we are looking for the perpetrators.

February 21, 2013

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/jan/17/donald-trump-mistakes-ivanka-from-brighton-for-his-daughter


More than one-third of schoolchildren are homeless in shadow of Silicon Valley

Tech economy is drawing new inhabitants and businesses but is contributing to dislocation, leaving families, teachers and even principals with housing woes

Every night for the past year or so, Adriana and Omar Chavez have slept in an RV parked in East Palo Alto, a downtrodden community in Silicon Valley.

On a recent morning before sunrise, they emerged on to the empty street. Omar showed his phone to his wife: 7.07am. Shall I wake up the girls? he said, his breath visible in the freezing air.

He headed inside to rouse their three daughters, huddled together in the low-ceilinged bed just above the drivers cab, and ready them for school.

In most places, the Chavez family would be an exception. But in the school district that includes East Palo Alto, located amid the extraordinary wealth generated by the tech industry, their plight is not uncommon.

Remarkably, slightly more than one-third of students or 1,147 children are defined as homeless here, mostly sharing homes with other families because their parents cannot afford one of their own, and also living in RVs and shelters. The district is being squeezed from every side: teachers, administrative staff and even principals have housing woes of their own.

The circumstances of the crisis are striking. Little more than a strip of asphalt separates East Palo Alto from tony Palo Alto, with its startups, venture capitalists, Craftsman homes and Whole Foods.

You used to say youre on the wrong side of the tracks. Now youre on the wrong side of the freeway, said Gloria Hernandez-Goff, the hard-charging superintendent of Ravenswood City school district, which has eight schools and a preschool.

The
The Chavez family lost their home after Omar was injured, which prevented him from working. Photograph: Alastair Gee for the Guardian

East Palo Alto has traditionally been a center for African American and Latino communities. Its suburban houses are clustered on flat land by the bay, sometimes with no sidewalks and few trees, but residents say the town boasts a strong sense of cohesion.

Yet as in the rest of Silicon Valley, the technology economy is drawing new inhabitants and businesses the Facebook headquarters is within Ravenswoods catchment area and contributing to dislocation as well as the tax base.

Now you have Caucasians moving back into the community, you have Facebookers and Googlers and Yahooers, said Pastor Paul Bains, a local leader. Thats whats driven the cost back up. Before, houses were rarely over $500,000. And now, can you find one under $750,000? You probably could, but its a rare find.

Hernandez-Goff, who worked as a community organizer and in schools in northern California before becoming superintendent three and a half years ago, gives tech firms some credit.

Facebook recently announced it had committed $18.5m for affordable housing in the area. Meanwhile, the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative, founded by pediatrician Priscilla Chan and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, her husband, has funded programs in the Ravenswood district including literacy and leadership initiatives, Hernandez-Goff said, adding that she meets with Chan or her staff monthly.

For all that, Hernandez-Goff thinks the systemic problems housing shortages, wage stagnation, inequality are beyond her. Her focus is on the immediate needs of families.

She wants to open a school parking lot to cars and RVs at night, so families with children can sleep without being disturbed; she thinks lack of sleep and stress are contributing to her districts low test scores. And she would like to install washing machines in schools for those without homes.

Gloria
Gloria Hernandez-Goff thinks the systemic problems housing shortages, wage stagnation, inequality are beyond her. Photograph: Alastair Gee for the Guardian

The Chavez family lost their home after Omar was injured, which prevented him from working and then faced the areas exorbitant rent costs. Average one-bedroom rents in East Palo Alto are above $2,200, according to the city, and money is tight for the couple. Adriana earns only $11 an hour at a day care. Their tired-looking RV, with its $1,000 price tag, seemed the most logical option for them and their kids.

For them at the beginning, especially the youngest one, it was scary, Omar said.

With the dawn sun only a gleam on the horizon, he turned on a generator so his daughters could use the lights. Soon after, a very small child came to the doorway. Her jacket was zipped up and she held a blue hair clip. Ariel, six, had been watching Zootopia on the TV inside.

The RV has almost no free space. The main cabin has two beds one for the girls, and a second that converts into a table where the children do their homework. Omar cooks in a tiny kitchen, but because the refrigerator is broken there is no way to store fresh food. Bags of clothing are heaped on the floor, and the windows are sealed with aluminum tape for warmth. Omar sleeps in a back room crowded with belongings.

The shower is here, but we turned it into a closet, said Luna, five, pointing at a door. Instead, the family washes at a YMCA. They try to use the RV toilet as little as possible because the tank fills quickly.

The couples third daughter, Lannette, 15, was still in bed under some blankets. She was sick with what she thought was an ear infection. Its difficult, she said of the living situation, but at least I have somewhere to sleep.

Several homeless families whose children attend local schools told the Guardian that they had considered moving to cheaper real estate markets, such as the agricultural Central Valley, but there were no jobs there.

One man shares a single room with three children, in a house where three other families each have a room. Another woman lives with her partner and five children in a converted garage.

Even teachers are not immune to such difficulties. Ten of the staff who work on early education programs one-third of the total commute two or more hours each way a day because they cannot find housing they can afford.

Amanda Kemp, 47, is the principal of an East Palo Alto school. Based on her income, she says she has no option but to share a home with three other educators. I was done with roommates in college, she said. Not once did I even think I would live with others unless it was a significant other.

Hernandez-Goff hopes to build apartments for staff on land owned by the school district. She speaks of her students and employees as an endangered species, on the verge of extinction.

Their predicament is not abstract to her. I love this place, she said. I wish I could buy a house here.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2016/dec/28/silicon-valley-homeless-east-palo-alto-california-schools


A family resists Google’s campus sprawl despite an offer to buy farm for millions

The Martinellis try to preserve their family history and the agricultural spirit of the valley that is now surrounded on all sides by the tech company

A Bay Area family is holding on to its ramshackle farmstead in the heart of Googles sprawling headquarters despite reason to believe it has been offered $5m to $7m by the tech giant for the tiny patch of land.

The land which is home to battered pickups, a crumbling ice house, and a handful of renters is now surrounded on all sides by the tech companys more than 25-acre campus in Mountain View, California.

Measuring less than an acre, the property is also home to fig, tangerine, avocado and ancient pepper trees, many of which were planted and harvested by the late patriarch of the family, Victor Molinari, who died five years ago.

His surviving relatives appear disinclined to sell.

Right now were living, said Leonard Martinelli, 49. We dont need the money. Right now its not for sale. His sister, Sandra Martinelli Bilyeu, 43, added: If we keep it, we keep our history.

But it is not only the familys history that is being preserved.

Silicon Valley may now be synonymous with tech behemoths such as Google, Apple and Facebook, but not so long ago it was miles of lush farm fields where plums, cherries and tomatoes grew in abundance.

Although Silicon Valley has been generous to the point of extravagance in preserving its own history the massive Computer History Museum is almost exactly one mile away from the farmstead the industry and its supporters have been less enthusiastic about memorializing anything before the advent of high tech.

I dont think anyone sees any historic significance in the property, said Mountain View city councilman Leonard Siegel. Eventually all these properties are going to go. Theres nothing unique about them.

Its not as if the Golden Era of Mountain View was when it was agricultural, added Siegel, who describes himself as a professional environmental advocate. Silicon Valleys strength is its permanent sense of evolution.

That sentiment was called unfortunate and not surprising by Brian Grayson of the valleys preservation action council. The fabric of a community comes from what happened here. Newcomers have no connection to why we came here except for more jobs. Thats it for them.

Those newcomers have transformed the agricultural land south of San Francisco into one of the most expensive swaths of real estate in the world, and the Martinelli family has witnessed the value of its land rocket.

That land is worth probably $5m-7m, according to Myron Von Raesfeld, a leading real estate expert in the valley and former president of the Santa Clara County Association of Realtors. I have reason to believe theyve been offered that kind of money from Google.

Google declined to respond to inquiries about the attempted purchase of the property.

A
A Google employee bikes in front of the Martinellis property at 1851 Charleston Road, in the middle of the Google campus. Photograph: Ramin Talaie for the Guardian

The Martinelli clan no longer reside at the farmstead, which has been gradually surrounded by the tech giants campus, known as Googleplex, which provides offices for about 20,000 employees.

Instead, it is now home to a handful of eclectic renters such as Mihail Kivachitsky, a self-described artist who declined to be interviewed but makes a living as a carpenter.

Victoria Martinelli, 79, one of the elders of the Martinelli clan and the late Victor Molinaris sister, remembers working the vegetable rows and learning to drive on a tractor in the fields during childhood summer vacations. She gave the Guardian a recent tour of the property.

She glanced at a weathered shed, recalling how, about 70 years ago, her family built it and a now ruined barn. The latter included a place to keep the produce cold before trucking it to the San Francisco produce markets.

That was in 1946, maybe 1947, Victoria Martinelli recalled. Thats where they washed the fruit before it went on the truck. The shelves are where we stored the onions.

While her children appeared reluctant to let go of the familys farm, Victoria Martinelli was more ambivalent. We dont know, she said, noting that there were lots of grandchildren and endowing them with financial independence deserves consideration.

Should the family change its mind and relinquish its farmstead, Google would extend its formidable imprint on Mountain View resigning to history the bucolic fields that have since turned to concrete.

Its a pretty much amazing-looking place right here in the middle of all this, said Rob Carr, a young Google software engineer walking by the old farmhouse. I can see the value in saving it. But I also believe property should be used.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2016/dec/15/google-campus-silicon-valley-farm-martinellis


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