Warning: count(): Parameter must be an array or an object that implements Countable in /home/tbrnew5/public_html/wp-includes/post-template.php on line 284

Warning: count(): Parameter must be an array or an object that implements Countable in /home/tbrnew5/public_html/wp-includes/post-template.php on line 284

Warning: count(): Parameter must be an array or an object that implements Countable in /home/tbrnew5/public_html/wp-includes/post-template.php on line 284

Warning: count(): Parameter must be an array or an object that implements Countable in /home/tbrnew5/public_html/wp-includes/post-template.php on line 284

TBR News December 24, 2017

Dec 24 2017

The Voice of the White House

Washington, D.C., December 24, 2017: “Merry Christmas!”
Table of Contents

  • New York’s vanishing shops and storefronts: ‘It’s not Amazon, it’s rent’
  • Catalonia election: Spain’s King Felipe warns separatists
  • Can the Supreme Court Continue to Live with Our Arbitrary and Capricious Death Penalty?
  • China shuts down thousands of websites for breaking the law
  • How Putin became a problem for Russian oligarchs
  • The theft of German gold
  • At Christmas, families on the edge of homelessness must choose: gifts or rent?
  • The Opioid Epidemic – America’s Prescribed Killer
  • Can cryptocurrency mania end like Wall Street Crash of 1929?
  • Israel quits UNESCO over ‘attacks’
  • Tech’s terrible year: how the world turned on Silicon Valley in 2017

 

 

New York’s vanishing shops and storefronts: ‘It’s not Amazon, it’s rent’

Vacant storefronts are becoming more noticeable in the capital of consumption, as small retailers are being pushed out by wealthy investors

December 24, 2017

by Edward Helmore in New York

The Guardian

Walk down almost any major New York street – say Fifth Avenue near Trump Tower, or Madison Avenue from midtown to the Upper East Side. Perhaps venture down Canal Street, or into the West Village around Bleecker, and some of the most expensive retail areas in the world are blitzed with vacant storefronts.

The famed Lincoln Plaza Cinemas on the Upper West Side announced earlier this week that it is closing next month. A blow to the city’s cinephiles, certainly, but also a sign of the effects that rapid gentrification, coupled with technological innovation, are having on the city.

Over the past several years, thousands of small retailers have closed, replaced by national chains. When they, too, fail, the stores lie vacant, and landlords, often institutional investors, are unwilling to drop rents.

A recent survey by New York councilmember Helen Rosenthal found 12% of stores on one stretch of the Upper West Side is unoccupied and ‘for lease’. The picture is repeated nationally. In October, the US surpassed the previous record for store closings, set after the 2008 financial crisis.

The common refrain is that the devastation is the product of a profound shift in consumption to online, with Amazon frequently identified as the leading culprit. But this is maybe an over-simplification.

“It’s not Amazon, it’s rent,” says Jeremiah Moss, author of the website and book Vanishing New York. “Over the decades, small businesses weathered the New York of the 70s with it near-bankruptcy and high crime. Businesses could survive the internet, but they need a reasonable rent to do that.”

Part of the problem is the changing make-up of New York landlords. Many are no longer mom-and-pop operations, but institutional investors and hedge funds that are unwilling to drop rents to match retail conditions. “They are running small businesses out of the city and replacing them with chain stores and temporary luxury businesses,” says Moss.

In addition, he says, banks will devalue a property if it’s occupied by a small business, and increase it for a chain store. “There’s benefit to waiting for chain stores. If you are a hedge fund manager running a portfolio you leave it empty and take a write-off.”

New York is famously a city of what author EB White called “tiny neighborhood units” is his classic 1949 essay Here is New York. White observed “that many a New Yorker spends a lifetime within the confines of an area smaller than a country village”.

In Vanishing New York, Moss writes of the toll the evisceration of distinct neighborhoods through real estate over-pricing has on the city. “It’s homogenizing and changing the character of the city,” he says. Even where landlords are offering competitive leases, they are often for two or five years, not the customary 10.

“We’re seeing more stores front emptying, and we’re seeing a lot of turnover where you see spaces fill temporarily and then empty. And it’s continuing to get worse,” he says.

In business terms, the crisis in commercial real estate has led to a wave of consolidations. Earlier this month, France’s Unibail-Rodamco and Australia’s Westfield agreed to merge in a deal worth $24.7bn to form the world’s second-biggest owner of shopping malls, including Manhattan’s Brookfield Place.

Vacant real estate is not the only effect of an over-priced market; the boom in WeWork, a work-space company valued at around $20bn, and store pop-ups could also be responsible.

But some believe the market could have reached a turning point. “It’s like Hunger Games,” says New York retail property agent Robin Zendell. “If you’re smart and innovative you can survive this market. Landlords and retailers are having to listen to a new generation of shoppers.”

Like Moss, Zendell believes it’s too simplistic to blame Amazon. The same signals of over-pricing are seen in every area of real estate, including housing. “When you see [that] every corner has a bank or a pharmacy, and there is a gym on the second floor, there’s a simple reason for that: people can’t afford the rent.

“Why did restaurants go to Brooklyn? Because it’s cool? No, because it was cheap, and [because] restaurateurs were sick of giving investors’ money away so they could pay thir rent.”

In some areas, notably Bleecker Street, once lined with fashion boutiques including Ralph Lauren and Marc Jacobs, too many vacancies create their own problems. “Rents have fallen but now there are so many empty stores there, nobody wants to be alone. So they’ve created more of a crisis.”

But there are glimmers of turn-around. Zendell has observed five deals in SoHo in the past month, indicating that landlords are becoming too nervous to sit around. “They helped to create the bubble, but now it’s our market.”

Renters insist landlords have an investment in the game, either through taking a performance-based interest in the tenant or some other mechanism. Retailers that signed 10-year leases at a high number per sq ft and then had to pay to get out of that lease are insisting on some participation.

“Any new deal is going to have a pre-nup, the location has to be right, and the landlord has to have some skin in the game,” says Zendell.

Zendell also believes some retailers are beginning to find their way. She cites Everlane as an example of upcoming brand that is managing to harness the power of the internet to bricks-and-mortar retail. Online, she points out, is good for things you need, but less so for things you want.

“You still need people and interaction, but you need a different approach: the modern customer is very smart. Brick and mortar used to be only about sales, now it’s about marketing, driving people to the internet and for helping people to understand your product.”

 

Catalonia election: Spain’s King Felipe warns separatists

December 24, 2017

BBC News

The king of Spain has issued a renewed call for unity amid the ongoing fallout from Catalonia’s outlawed independence referendum.

In his Christmas message, Felipe VI urged the people of Catalonia to choose coexistence rather than confrontation.

He did not directly mention the leaders of the Catalan separatist movement.

In the wake of October’s referendum in the region, the king heavily criticised those spearheading Catalonia’s independence movement.

Some Catalans were angered by this, and the fact that he made no mention of the heavy-handed Spanish police operation to block the vote.

BBC Europe correspondent Kevin Connolly says the king’s core underlying message about the importance of national unity remains unchanged, but his Christmas broadcast was more cautious and conciliatory.

The king said the politicians elected to the Catalan parliament this week – which included a narrow separatist majority – had to “face the problems that affect all Catalans, with respect to plurality and bearing in mind their responsibility to the common good”.

“The road cannot lead again to confrontation and exclusion, which as we already know generate nothing but discord, uncertainty and discouragement,” he said from his Madrid residence.

He praised what he called Catalonia’s openness and creative spirit.

The leader of the bloc of separatist parties which won a majority in Thursday’s election, Carles Puigdemont, remains in Brussels – a fugitive from the Spanish judicial authorities who have arrested and tried several key separatist leaders in the wake of the illegal referendum.

Mr Puigdemont has called on Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy to meet him.

Our correspondent says Mr Rajoy clearly has no intention of responding to this.

 

Can the Supreme Court Continue to Live with Our Arbitrary and Capricious Death Penalty?

December 24 2017

by Liliana Segura

The Intercept

Rudolph J. Gerber has never forgotten where he was when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the death penalty over 45 years ago. He was a new lawyer in Phoenix, working as the associate director of the Arizona Criminal Code Commission. The landmark 1972 ruling in Furman v. Georgia invalidated death sentences across the country, including those of 16 people on Arizona’s death row. Outraged politicians vowed to bring back capital punishment; one Phoenix Republican declared his candidacy for Maricopa County attorney that very day.

The next day, Republican State Sen. Sandra Day O’Connor, a member of Arizona’s Senate  Judiciary Committee, came to Gerber’s office. She dropped the Furman decision on his desk. “I said, ‘What do you think we should do about it?’” Gerber recalled in a recent phone interview. “And her exact words were, ‘Rudy, I want you to write a death penalty we can live with.’”

To O’Connor – and to the 5-4 majority in Furman – this meant revamping Arizona law to ensure the death penalty was more carefully applied. Gerber was up to the task, although he did not have strong feelings on the matter himself. No one had been executed in Arizona in nearly 10 years. “I thought, well, having a new death penalty law is like having a new tax code,” he said. He began to study the ruling.

It was an unusual decision. Each of the nine justices had written a separate opinion in Furman. But the prevailing problem was arbitrariness – there was no uniformity in death sentences across the country, nor in the severity of the crimes that sent people to death row. Race and social status were the real drivers of death sentences, making the punishment discriminatory and “freakishly imposed.” Justice Potter Stewart called the death penalty cruel and unusual “in the same way that being struck by lighting is cruel and unusual.”

Gerber began drafting some standards to define the subset of murders that could be considered most heinous and deserving of death. Consulting the Model Penal Code, he identified six statutory aggravating factors — for example, killing a police officer, murdering for monetary gain, or having previously been convicted of a violent crime.

O’Connor had told the press that the future of capital punishment should be up to Arizona voters, who widely supported it. Yet most seemed indifferent to the details. Public hearings on the law were poorly attended, according to one Arizona Republic columnist, who described “the rooms half empty, the public apparently unconcerned.” As the law went into effect in 1974, O’Connor successfully ran for a seat on the Maricopa County Superior Court, and was later appointed by President Ronald Reagan as the first woman to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court.

Gerber had gone to work as a prosecutor in Maricopa County when the high court handed down its next major ruling on capital punishment in 1976. Gregg v. Georgia upheld Georgia’s new death penalty law, a green light to resume executions. To Gerber, the issue was no longer an abstraction. Prosecutors in Arizona had swiftly availed themselves of the law he helped design, without waiting on the court. By the time Gregg came down, they had already sent a dozen people to death row.

In 1977, Gerber himself sought the death penalty against a man named Joe Clarence Smith, who had brutally murdered a young waitress, stabbing her genitals and stuffing her mouth with dirt. Yet when the time came for the sentencing phase, Gerber found himself conflicted. “Even though I had convicted him and he was a terrible human being, I didn’t think I wanted to see him executed,” he said. A colleague took over and won a death sentence.

More than 40 years later, Smith has yet to be executed. If Gerber could not have foreseen such a thing in the late ’70s, he soon saw plenty of other problems. “As a draftsman, prosecutor, and then trial judge, watching ‘my’ death penalty stature in action, I came to realize how little I comprehended the nuances and data regarding the day-to-day workings of capital punishment,” he wrote years later in the Stanford Law and Policy Review. Among his central concerns was the immense power granted to prosecutors, who weaponized the death penalty in everything from plea bargains to political campaigns. As time passed, he wrote, “I marveled at the enthusiasm of colleagues and politicians in touting a practice they did not seem to understand.”

Gerber watched with dismay as the tough-on-crime era took hold in Arizona. As politicians campaigned on harsh sentencing, they introduced bill after bill adding new aggravators to make people eligible for the death penalty. The once-narrow list of aggravating factors “crept and expanded to absurd, broad categories,” Gerber said, such as “heinous” and “depraved,” and perhaps most bizarre, “without legal justification.”

Today, there are 14 aggravating factors that can send a defendant to death in Arizona. Ironically, the very mechanism that was supposed to fix the death penalty “has put us right back into the arbitrariness and caprice that was condemned in Furman,” Gerber said. “We have come full circle, even with good intentions.”

Earlier this year, Gerber, now 79 years old and retired from the Arizona Court of Appeals, joined 20 former judges, prosecutors, and other members of the state’s legal community to sign an amicus brief to a petition pending before the U.S. Supreme Court. The case, Hidalgo v. Arizona,  challenges Arizona’s death penalty law for being overly broad, in violation of the Constitution. Filed on behalf of Abel Daniel Hidalgo — and brought by former Obama Solicitor General Neal Katyal — the petition does not stop there. It argues that the time has come to abolish capital punishment altogether. “The death penalty is unconstitutional,” Hidalgo argues, “full stop.”

Hidalgo has been closely watched for months. It is the latest attempt to rise to a challenge put forth in 2015 by Justice Stephen Breyer in his impassioned dissent in Glossip v. Gross. Breyer famously laid out the myriad problems with death penalty — from the decades prisoners spend in isolation to the risk of executing the innocent — and called for “a full briefing” on the constitutionality of capital punishment. Katyal argues that Hidalgo is the ideal vehicle, describing Arizona as a microcosm of the flaws Breyer described and “an exemplar of the arbitrariness in the imposition of the death penalty in the United States.”

While the chances of success for any petition before the court are slim, some express cautious optimism that it might take at least the first question. “Arizona has reached a point that is pretty clearly in violation of Gregg v. Georgia,” Gerber said. The ruling was premised on the notion that the death penalty should be narrowly applied in the most egregious cases. Yet Hidalgo includes data showing that 99 percent of murders over an 11-year period in Maricopa County included at least one aggravator. “When virtually all first-degree murders are eligible for death, the ‘worst of the worst’ requirement turns on its head,” Gerber wrote in November. Even the Maricopa Superior Court judge who most recently upheld Arizona’s law found this data disconcerting, calling it “problematic from a constitutional standpoint.”

Hidalgo has been repeatedly listed and re-listed for conference by the court, most recently appearing on its December 8 calendar. But it was delayed again after the justices requested the full record from the state — a sign someone wants to take a closer look. As 2017 comes to a close, the fate of Hidalgo will wait until the new year.

In the meantime, the death penalty continues its precipitous decline. In its end-of-year report for 2017, which tracks the ever-dwindling executions and death sentences, the Death Penalty Information Center identified three “outlier” counties responsible for a disproportionate percentage of all new death sentences. Maricopa County was one of them. There, prosecutors handed down their latest death sentence just last month, in the case of 29-year-old John Allen, convicted of murder and child abuse. His wife, Sammantha, was sentenced to die for the same crime just a few months earlier, becoming the third woman on Arizona’s death row.

The enduring zeal for the death penalty in Maricopa County is partly the legacy of one man: Andrew Thomas, elected county attorney in 2004. In his first two years, death penalty prosecutions nearly doubled in Maricopa County. In one of many articles about Thomas, the Phoenix New Times described “one fairly typical case from that era,” in which Maricopa County prosecutors sought death against a man for killing someone while drunken driving – “only the second time in the nation’s history that’s happened.”

“He overused the death penalty,” Gerber recalled. What’s more, Thomas found an ally in his campaign: notorious Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who had campaigned alongside him. Gerber is blunt in saying the two men shared a racist bias against Latinos, who receive death sentences in disproportionate numbers in Arizona. When a crime was committed by a Latino, “for Andrew Thomas, one of the first responses was well, let’s fry ’em. Let’s put ’em to death.”

The effect was partly captured by Arizona Attorney Magazine, which ran a two-part series in 2009 titled “The Capital Case Crisis In Maricopa County: What (Little) We Can Do About It.” The authors had planned to call for an empirical study of the cost of capital cases, only to realize that the situation was too dire; it was clear that there was an alarming backlog of capital cases in the county. There were not enough qualified judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, and other specialists available to handle them.

Thomas was ultimately disbarred by the Arizona Supreme Court, which found he “outrageously exploited power, flagrantly fostered fear, and disgracefully misused the law.” He was expelled in 2012. Today, Maricopa County still stands apart, but prosecutors have wielded their power similarly at different times throughout the state. In Pinal County, which is home to Arizona’s death row, the election of far-right County Attorney Lando Voyles in 2012 brought an unprecedented surge in capital prosecutions. Voyles, who was from Maricopa County, “embarked on a crusade to basically try to get everybody the death penalty that had committed a first-degree murder,” recalls James Mannato, a veteran attorney in Florence, Arizona, and currently the county’s public defender. Within a few years, death penalty cases had tripled in Pinal County. “It serves to highlight the issue that’s now being presented in Hidalgo’s petition,” Mannato said.

To Mannato, the problem comes down to power. “It’s hard, really, for people sometimes to resist the urge to seek death penalty because it’s simply so easy to do it, and it gives any prosecutor the ultimate amount of leverage,” he said. Regardless, voters did not seem to have much patience for Voyles, who lost re-election in 2016 amid accusations of overreach and overspending, including on capital prosecutions, which cost half a million dollars each.

Mannato was optimistic about Hidalgo’s chances before the Supreme Court. “I think they’re going to take it,” he said, “and I think the reason is because the momentum’s been building across the country against the death penalty.” State legislators continue to pass abolition legislation, governors keep imposing moratoriums, and fewer and fewer juries are sentencing people to death. “They’ve done what they think is morally correct without waiting for the Supreme Court to tell them.”

Today, Rudy Gerber is retired and living is California, where attempts to end the death penalty by ballot initiative have repeatedly failed. The state is home to Riverside County — another death penalty outlier — as well as the country’s largest death row. The story of how it got this way has parallels to Arizona: a widening net of factors made defendants eligible for the death penalty. “They don’t call them aggravators, they call them special circumstances here,” he said. “But the result is exactly the same. Upwards of 90 percent of California murderers fall into one or more of the special circumstances.” It is another reason Hidalgo should interest the Supreme Court. “A number of states, not just Arizona, are in the same place.”

In California, the issue dates back to 1978, when a lawyer named Don Heller drafted a pro-death penalty ballot initiative that would pass overwhelmingly, expanding the use of special circumstances in capital cases. Like Gerber, Heller soon began questioning what he’d done. A wave of California prosecutors immediately sought death sentences. “Everyone was trying to put a notch on their gun. There were a tremendous number of capital cases filed,” he told me in 2016. The state’s death penalty population surged — today it hovers at 750. Yet only 13 executions have been carried out since then. The fight over lethal injection has kept the state mired in costly litigation.

In Arizona, executions have been on hold since the botched killing of Joseph Wood, a harrowing, two-hour ordeal that made headlines across the world. Similar episodes have occurred across death penalty states. In Ohio this year, the state failed to kill 69-year-old Alva Campbell — the second time in less than a decade a man has left the state’s death chamber alive.

Other botched executions are discussed in a 2007 book co-authored by Gerber, which also shows how, even when all appears to have gone smoothly, people who attend or carry out executions are forever altered. One Arizona woman featured in the book — a former lower court judge named Donna Leone Hamm — describes a sick feeling of complicity, even as a death penalty opponent. “You stood and watched a man die,” she said. “You did nothing to stop it. You could not have stopped it, but you didn’t even try.”

Hamm’s husband was incarcerated on drug charges in Arizona during the 1980s. When she began coming to see him in prison in those years, she told me, “I realized they treated me very, very differently when I was touring the prisons as a judge then they did when I became a visitor.” When her husband was released, they started an advocacy group called Middle Ground Prison Reform. It was around this time, in 1992, that Arizona finally carried out its first post-Gregg execution, with Hamm as a witness. It was a major media event. She remembers seeing flowers planted alongside the death house and “velvet ropes” upon entering the viewing room, as if “you’re in line to go see a movie.”

“It was disgusting,” she said. The man, Donald Harding, died in the gas chamber, wearing nothing but an adult diaper. Witnesses commented on his pasty white skin; Hamm became convinced it was primarily for humiliation. Harding stuck up his middle finger as the execution began, which “everybody talked about and wrote about.” Today, Hamm is unsure about Hidalgo’s chances at the Supreme Court. But she does not believe Arizona will end the death penalty on its own.

In November, as the Supreme Court continued to mull over different cases, the Huffington Post ran an article by Ray Krone, sentenced to die in Maricopa County on the basis of junk forensic evidence. In 2002, Krone became the 100th person exonerated from death row in the U.S. “I wish I could say my story is unusual,” he wrote. “But the truth is, 160 men and women have been exonerated and freed from death row since 1973.” He called on the Supreme Court to take up Hidalgo and abolish the death penalty for good.

More than perhaps any other issue, a growing awareness of wrongful convictions has likely helped shift public opinion favoring the death penalty to its current historic lows. In Arizona, Hidalgo points out, nine people have been exonerated from death row. (And cases like that of Barry Jones, convicted in 1995, show there is good reason to believe there are other innocent people facing execution in the state.) After the 2015 exoneration of Debra Milke, the Arizona Republic ran a series on capital punishment. As Gerber recalls, the stories generated a great deal of debate, even among “back-row conservatives.” Recent exonerations in Arizona have forced people in Maricopa County to confront the reality that innocent people are sentenced to die — “and that maybe it’s time to just get rid of it.”

This shift in mindset includes Sandra Day O’Connor herself. After 25 years on the Supreme Court bench, often providing a swing vote in death penalty cases, she retired in 2006. One day toward the end of her term, in 2001, she gave a speech before the Minnesota Women Lawyers. It made headlines. “If statistics are any indication,” O’Connor said, “the system may well be allowing some innocent defendants to be executed.”

When Gerber heard of her comments, he was surprised. When he knew her all those years ago in Phoenix, she “would have never said that,” he said. “So something happened in her tenure on the Supreme Court. Maybe studying these capital cases that opened her mind to the possibility that maybe some innocent people have been executed,” he said. “But I cannot speak for her, then or now.”

Whether O’Connor would vote to take Hidalgo if she were still on the bench is impossible to know. But her feelings on capital punishment certainly appear to have evolved. Speaking to her audience members in Minnesota, she noted that their state did not have the death penalty. “You must breathe a big sigh of relief every day.”

 

China shuts down thousands of websites for breaking the law

The state’s clampdown has served as a “powerful deterrent,” said a senior official. But human rights groups have warned that the measures amount to repression of dissent.

December 24, 2017

DW

Chinese authorities shut down more than 13,000 websites for breaking laws and regulations governing the country’s internet network since 2015, reported China’s state-run news agency Xinhua.

An additional 2,220 website operations had been summoned for discussions with the official Cyberspace Administration of China, said Wang Shengjun, who serves as deputy chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress.

“These moves have a powerful deterrent effect,” said Wang said in comments carried by Xinhua.

While the government says its rules are aimed at ensuring national security and stability, human rights organizations have warned that the country’s tough laws governing the internet amount to repressive measures aimed at quashing dissent.

‘Punished for sharing’

In the Washington-based Freedom House’s 2017 report on internet freedom, China was dubbed the “worst abused of internet freedom” for the third consecutive year.

“New regulations increased pressure on companies to verify users’ identities and restrict banned content and services,” Freedom House said in its report.

Meanwhile, users themselves were punished for sharing sensitive news and commentary, with prison terms ranging from five days to eleven years.”

While China is home to more than 731 million internet users, dozens of foreign websites and online services, including Facebook and Google, have been banned in the country.

 

How Putin became a problem for Russian oligarchs

December 24, 2017

by Roman Dobrokhotov

aljazeera.com

On December 21, Russian President Vladimir Putin met with Russian oligarchs at the Kremlin. Тhe men in attendance had a combined wealth of $213bn, almost as much as the Russian federal budget. So it was no wonder Putin wanted to meet them and assure their loyalty, especially before the presidential elections next year (even if they will be just a formality).

Until recently, such meetings used to happen once a year, but this one was the third in 2017. So why all this enthusiasm for meetings at the Kremlin? For those who have been following closely the dealings of the Russian oligarchs, it is not that difficult to guess.

On November 22, Russian oligarch and senator Suleiman Kerimov (net worth of $6.3bn) was arrested in Nice and now stands accused of money laundering.

On December 13, the premises of the Dutch subsidiary of Russian Alfa Bank were searched and its assets frozen; the bank is owned by Michael Fridman, Pyotr Aven, Alexey Kuzmichev and German Kahn (combined net worth of $35.6bn).

On December 13, as well, a Daily Beast investigation revealed that Mikhail Prokhorov (net worth of $8.9bn) had 23 accounts in the Cyprus branch of the now closed FBME bank. The bank lost its license and the accounts of its clients were frozen after the US accused it of facilitating money laundering.

Gennady Timchenko (net worth of $16bn), a close friend of Putin’s, and his company, Novatek, are still under US sanctions. Russia’s richest man, Leonid Mikhelson (net worth of $18.4bn), who is also Timchenko’s partner and co-owner of Novatek, is threatened with sanctions.

Russia’s largest private oil company, Lukoil, owned by Vagit Alekperov (net worth of $14.5bn) and Leonid Fedun (net worth of $6.3bn), is also still on the sanctions list. There are other Russian oligarchs who might get slapped with sanctions, including Dmitry Rybolovlev (net worth of $7.3bn) and Viktor Vekselberg (net worth of $12.4bn).

In other words, approximately half of Russia’s biggest oligarchs are having troubles abroad; the other half might start having them in February 2018, when the US expands its sanctions list.

The oligarchs most likely to get on that list, of course, are the ones closest to the Kremlin. A number of Russian opposition leaders are actively cooperating with the US authorities, who are consulting them on this issue.

Proximity to Putin, which used to be considered most important for capital growth in the Russian oligarchic system, is now becoming a considerable risk. Reuters recently reported that, before the February 2018 announcement of new sanctions, some of Russia’s wealthy are trying to appear less often at Kremlin events. Russia’s oligarchy is quite dependent on the West, so such apprehensions about the sanctions are not surprising.

Not so long ago, Putin seemed to enjoy complete impunity for his actions on the international scene. The Kremlin was ready to fight on all fronts, send its troops to Ukraine and Syria, interfere in elections in Western countries through hackers and trolls, and even try to organise a coup in a Balkan country. The reaction of the West was slow and weak at first, but it finally seems to be gaining momentum and going even beyond sanctions. The Joint Investigation Team, tasked with investigating the crash of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 in Ukraine, is making progress, and, in January, is expected to indict a Russian general. The future of the Russian gas pipeline project to Europe, “Nordstream 2” (planned to be built across the Baltic Sea, from Russia to Germany), is also under question, as its European partners are pulling away.

Putin must have noticed by now that the international situation has really changed. With a stagnant economy and an upcoming World Cup, he might do well to try to fix relations with the West a bit. And it seems that he’s ready to take a step back. He already declared the withdrawal of Russian troops from Syria (whatever this will actually mean) and started negotiations for placing UN peacekeepers in the war-torn Donbass region of Ukraine and for prisoner exchanges with Kiev. In recent months, there also haven’t been any new, known cases of Kremlin hacker attacks, and the troll factors seem to have quieted down.

At his recent public Q&A, Putin did not outline his strategy for the next presidential term. It seemed he actually avoided grand declarations which he usually makes at such events; there was not a trace of the aggressive rhetoric he used to maintain until recently.

In any case, this perceived retreat might be more tactical than strategic. Without an enemy in the West, Putin would lose a lot of his domestic legitimacy. This doesn’t mean that the Russian people want a confrontation; on the contrary – a recent survey shows that 75 percent think that relations with the US and other Western countries should be improved. There is no contradiction here: Putin loves to talk about how he wants to improve relations, but the West is afraid of Russia’s growing strength and is trying to preclude such attempts.

The worsening of the economic situation in Russia was compensated for by the intensification of propaganda: weekly talk shows which spurn the West are already broadcast daily. TV ratings are falling but Putin doesn’t have a choice – amid low oil prices, he would find it very difficult to mobilise his base without an external “enemy”.

This means that Putin will be stepping back only as far as the West forces him to, and not a step more. He is no longer on the offensive and is now laying low and watching. How far the West is willing to go in pressuring the Kremlin remains uncertain, and the criteria by which new names will be included on the sanctions list are still unclear.

Paradoxically, it’s this atmosphere of uncertainty that makes sanctions such a powerful weapon. Putin himself loves using uncertainty to control the Russian elite, but now it’s the West playing this game. The severity of the sanctions is not as important as the anxiety that anyone could get sanctioned, especially if they show up in a photo with Putin.

Maybe that was why the oligarchs meeting Putin on December 21 were seated in alphabetic order around the table. Parhaps the seat next to the Russian president was so hot that his protocol people did what they had to  avoid awkward scenes.

 

The theft of German gold

December 24, 2017

by Christian Jürs

Since before World War II, Fort Knox, America’s delegated repository for gold, served as the safe haven for much of the gold legally belonging to foreign nations.

In the 1930s, fears that Europe would be overrun by Hitler’s Wehrmacht sent the gold from Eastern Europe, France, and Great Britain to Fort Knox for safekeeping.

Those same fears mounted during the Cold War era.

There was exactly the same scenario with the German, French, Dutch, British or Belgian gold during the created threat of Soviet military units overrunning Europe.

This gold was sent across the Atlantic for safekeeping by the US Treasury.

However, instead of storing it in Fort Knox secure vaults, the American

Treasury gave it instead to the Federal Reserve as collateral for the loans (currently $19.5 trillion) which the private Federal Reserve Corporation made to the US Treasury, in exchange for which the Treasury issued IOUs in the form of T-Bills to be held by the Federal Reserve.

The bullion vault at Fort Knox, Kentucky, an American military installation, has indeed held a large amount of the U.S. gold reserves in the past, but now the Federal Reserve Bank of New York holds the prize as the world’s biggest known stockpile of gold, some 550,000 bars, buried deep into the bedrock of lower Manhattan. That’s $203.3 billion worth of gold in a single place.

Just 2% to 5% of it is owned by the U.S. government, though. The rest is owned by foreign countries.

The New York-based, privately owned, Federal Reserve has been acting as the guardian and custodian of the gold on behalf of account holders, which include the US government, foreign governments, other central banks and official international organizations.

Federal Reserve is not an official American government bank but is an amalgam of twelve private banks.

America’s private central bank began taking foreign gold deposits when it opened in 1924.

Gold custody is one of several financial services the Federal Reserve Bank of New York provides to central banks, governments and official international organizations on behalf of the Federal Reserve System.

Currently, The Federal Reserve is holding 7.4 million ounces, or $6.8 billion, worth of gold and 134.9 million ounces, or $2.2 billion, of silver in storage.

None of the gold stored in the vault belongs to the New York Fed (or the Federal Reserve System.) The New York Federal Reserve acts as the guardian and custodian of the gold on behalf of account holders, which include the U.S. government, foreign governments, other central banks, and official international organizations. No individuals or private sector entities are permitted to store gold in the vault.

Holdings in the gold vault continued to increase and peaked in 1973, shortly after the United States suspended convertibility of dollars into gold for foreign governments. At its peak, the vault contained over 12,000 tons of monetary gold. Since that time, gold deposit and withdrawal activity has slowed and the vault has experienced a gradual but steady decline in overall holdings. However, the vault today remains the world’s largest known depository of monetary gold.

98 percent of Gold at Federal Reserve Bank of New York is owned by central banks of foreign nations and 2 percent is owned by United States of America.

As of 2017, the vault houses approximately 508,000 gold bars, with a combined weight of approximately 6,350 tons.

The vault is able to support this weight because it rests on the bedrock of Manhattan Island, 80 feet below street level and 50 feet below sea level.

The largest foreign gold holder at the New York Federal Reserve gold vaults is the International Monetary Fund, with a holding of over 2,000 tons.

The next largest gold holder has been the Deutsche Bundesbank, which at the end of 2015 reported that it held 1,347.4 tons in the New York vaults.

After this, the Banca d’Italia says that it holds a substantial amount of gold in New York, estimated to be over 1,000 tons.

The Dutch central bank, De Nederlandsche Bank, holds 190 tons of its gold with the New York Federal Reserve.

In total, the IMF, Bundesbank, Banca d’Italia and De Nederlandsche Bank officially could hold more than 4,700 tons of gold in New York, which would account for approximately 80% of the total gold held in the Federal Reserve Bank vaults.

As to whether all of this gold is actually in the main and auxiliary vaults is another matter entirely.

In November 2014, the Dutch central bank, De Nederlandsche Bank (DNB) announced that it had repatriated approximately 122 tons of its gold from the New York Fed. This would leave the DNB with approximately 190 tons of gold still lead in New York.

Other central bank gold customers of the New York Fed include the following.

  • The Swedish Riksbank holds 13.2 tons of gold (10.7% of its 125.7 gold reserves) at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
  • The Central Bank of Finland holds 8.8 tons of its gold reserves (18% of its 49,5 tons total) with the New York Federal Reserve.

Other gold account customers of the FRBNY include

  • the Bank of Greece
  •  the Bank for International Settlements (BIS),
  • the European Central Bank (ECB),
  • Banque du Liban (Lebanon),
  • Central Bank of Afghanistan,
  • and the Bank of Ghana.

As a result of increasing concerns expressed by a number of German politicians and Germany’s financial policeman, its National Audit Office, the Bundesbank is to check up on Germany’s gold reserves, an estimated two-thirds of which are stored outside Germany. The Bundesbank has also revealed that a physical check of Germany’s gold has never been carried out.

A large proportion of Germany’s gold reserves is stored abroad in vaults in the US, Britain and France. The gold bars have not been inspected by German officials for decades, prompting German federal auditors to call for a long overdue stock-take.

As the European single currency zone crisis rumbles on from one summit to the next with no resolution in sight, Germany’s National Audit Office and some of the country’s politicians have become increasingly edgy about the country’s gold serves, nearly three quarters of which are held outwith Germany.

There are historical reasons for Germany not having its own Fort Knox. The quid pro quo for (West) Germany was allied troops being stationed in West Germany long after the Second World War had ended.

With only about 30% of Germany’s gold reserves being held in German custody and the remainder far away from Frankfurt, Germany’s National Audit Office – the organisation independent of government that keeps an eye on Germany’s finances – has queried whether the German central bank, the Bundesbank, has been regularly keeping tabs on German gold bullion.

The National Audit Office is concerned that no physical checks have been carried out.

The Bundesbank reacted to the National Audit Office’s demands emphasising it does not doubt ‘the integrity, reputation and safety’ of foreign storage sites, relying on documentation and procedures in place to provide proof and traceability of German gold reserves stored abroad over past decades.

Nonetheless, to allay audit office concerns, the Bundesbank made arrangements to repatriate some of Germany’s gold reserves and test the gold for purity. The Bundesbank had agreed to ship 150 tons of gold currently stored at the New York Federal Reserve to Germany.

German concerns mounted after a delegation of German federal politicians requested an inspection of German gold reserves stored at the Banque de France, France’s central bank, in Paris. The group were turned away by officials who said there were no visiting facilities at their vaults.

Now, the official view in Germany is that the Bundesbank has no reason to doubt that all German gold reserves stored in foreign countries can be properly accounted for.

On January 16, 2013 Germany’s central bank, the Bundesbank, said it would ship back home all 374 tons it had stored with the Banque de France in Paris, as well as 300 tons held in Manhattan by the US Federal Reserve, by 2020.

That having been said, the Federal Bank of Germany has only managed to bring home a paltry 37 tons of gold.

And only 5 tons of that came from the US, the rest coming from Paris. The US Fed holds 45% or roughly $635 billion of the total 3,396 tons of gold Germany has in reserve, the world’s second largest hoard.

Needless to say this prompted renewed questions as to whether Germany’s gold still exists in those Manhattan vaults or if it has been sold to others.

Ending talk of repatriating the world’s second-biggest gold reserves removes a potential irritant in U.S.-German relations.

It’s also a political rebuff to critics including the anti-euro ‘Alternative for Germany’ party, which says all the gold should be returned to Frankfurt so it can’t be impounded to blackmail Germany into keeping the currency union together.

As an enforced NATO partner of the U.S. during the Cold War, many German institutions were heavily infiltrated by American agents, such as CIA personnel, and the current German government does not wish to create serious problems by antagonizing the United States.

In sum, the Merkel government is willing to cover up the theft of their gold by the Amereicans for political reasons.

German gold is also held at The Bank of England which stores 13% in London, while the Bank of France in Paris has 11% in total and the remainder is held at the Bundesbank’s headquarters in Frankfurt.

The gold that was claimed to have been returned to Germany at Frankfurt was never shown to the public but was said to have been melted down immediately to  “bring the bullion to the current bar standard.” Germany holds more than 3,000 tons of gold bullion, which represents more than 75 percent of its foreign currency reserves.

It is well-known in the American banking community that the U.S. Treasury will never be able to repay $19.5 trillion which is owes to the Federal Reserve banks for loans, based on the gold the Federal Reserve has held as security for their loans to the U.S. government. Because the U.S. Treasury was unable to repay these loans the Federal Reserve sold all the gold to the Chinese government and they regard the the promissory notes from the Treasury (the T-Bills) as so much worthless paper.

The US Government will most certainly never have the money to redeem $19.5 trillion out of the taxes it collects, so the only way to repay the Federal Reserve is to borrow more money from the Federal Reserve to repay the older loans, with, of course the interest.

Thus, the Federal Reserve will never have to give back the gold to the Treasury, and has paid the U.S. Treasury debt and has kept some of the gold to cover itself.

When the foreign depositors, such as Germany, come to the US Government Treasury and ask for their gold back, the US Government does not have it, and has not had it in its possession in Fort Knox since soon after the end of WWII.

The final conclusion is that the U.S. Government has converted hundreds of trillions of other nations’ gold to act as collateral for its own borrowing and profligate spending, on endless wars, political corruption, bribery, and baldfaced theft.

 

At Christmas, families on the edge of homelessness must choose: gifts or rent?

For those living hand to mouth, the holiday season brings added stress: ‘Every time you get an extra penny, something comes along that costs a nickel more’

December 24, 2017

by Erin McCormick in San Francisco

The Guardian

A pile of assorted Christmas cards, decorated with snowmen, Santa and the baby Jesus, sits gathering dust in Sepia Coleman’s dresser drawer. This year, the 46-year-old grandmother won’t have the money for stamps to send them out.

Instead Coleman, a home healthcare worker in Memphis, who works three different jobs at wages that hover around $8.50 an hour, will care for patients on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day in hopes of earning enough money to stave off eviction.

At a time when labor market and consumer spending statistics point to a booming holiday season economy, Coleman is one of millions of Americans who are one missed paycheck away from homelessness. Some must even choose between holiday gifts and rent.

Coleman has already received a warning from her usually agreeable landlady that she needs to catch up on back rent by Christmas or face eviction. She makes $1,300 a month and pays $600 rent. She recently had to take out a payday loan because the power company had turned off her electricity. Now she isn’t sure where she will come up with the extra $200 she needs to stay in her apartment.

“The holidays are very depressing for me,” said Coleman. “I’m not a material person. But I don’t have the extra to spend. I’ve been stretching to make ends meet. But I can’t even get the ends to come close to each other.”

While the economic indicators are up for some, a deeper look at the realities facing those at the lower end of the economic spectrum shows many who, like Coleman, are barely able to hang on. For instance, a survey of nearly 7,000 Americans released by the Federal Reserve Board in May found just under half of respondents said they would not be able to handle a $400 emergency expense, without having to borrow.

US spends twice as much on tax break for rich as on rent for the poorest

“People are working; they are just not working at high enough wages or for enough hours,” said Sarah Bohn, a research fellow at the Public Policy Institute of California, who studies the economics of poverty. “Wages are not increasing at the rate housing costs are rising. We see that as the number one factor driving poverty.”

Tonia McMillian, who has been running a home-based childcare center in Bellflower, California, for the last 25 years, recently had to scale her program down to six children from 12, because when she paid her assistants minimum wage she found she was no longer earning it herself.

 

The Opioid Epidemic – America’s Prescribed Killer

December 20, 2017

Security Magazine

America is in the middle of a deadly drug crisis, and enterprise security can play a key role to mitigate the epidemic. In 2015, more than 52,000 people died of drug overdoses, nearly two-thirds of which were linked to opioids such as Percocet, OxyContin, heroin, and fentanyl.

In a webinar, Jim Sawyer, Security Director for Seattle Children’s displayed statistics to demonstrate just how bad the crisis has become. For example, he said, drug overdoses now kill more people than gun homicides and car crashes combined. Drug overdoses in 2015 also killed more people in the US than HIV/AIDS did during its peak in 1995.

Sawyer also noted that Americans by and far consume more opioids than the rest of the world. And according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, some states have more painkiller prescriptions than people.

How does the epidemic impact American workers? According to statistics, 1.8 million workers miss work, and many more may not be able to find work or to keep their jobs, due to their addiction.

In his presentation, Sawyer detailed the risk factors for addiction, to include a family history of drug or alcohol abuse and if someone has used drugs at an early age before their brain is fully developed.

He also discussed the sings of addiction and the signs of withdrawals.

Last, Sawyer discussed how security teams and security officers should be trained to handle the opioid addiction, to include documenting behaviors and observations, asking open-ended questions, involving a supervisor, and emphasizing that the crisis does impact a workforce in terms of the environment and productivity.

“It’s a silent epidemic because often, these drugs are prescribed. But the people who abuse them should know that enterprise security is available to help them,” Sawyer said.

 

Can cryptocurrency mania end like Wall Street Crash of 1929?

December 23, 2017

RT

Bitcoin and the cryptocurrency market plunged by almost a third this week. What could this mean for the future of digital money? Analysts, polled by RT are divided on the matter.

Despite the declared advantages of cryptocurrencies (security, anonymity, and de-regulation), the same pros have become cons that the currency should not have,” TeleTrade financial consultant Mikhail Grachev told RT.

Anonymity makes it possible to pay for prohibited items – drugs, weapons, says the analyst. The lack of regulation leads to a lack of responsibility, and if any controversial issue arises, it will hang in the air, he added.

“And the most important argument is that bitcoin, etherium and others cryptocurrencies, are quoted in US dollars, and no one has given up on the greenback in favor of a combination of digital symbols,” Grachev said.

The cryptocurrency market is going to crash, when people who invested on the dawn of the boom, will cash out, says the analyst.

“Cryptocurrencies can repeat the history of the 1929 stock market crash. Some say the recent collapse of bitcoin is attributed to the cancellation of its hardfork (SegWit2x), others say investors are fleeing bitcoin and buying bitcoin cash. It is possible that the year will close at levels near BTCUSD $7,500,” Grachev said.

Mikhail Mashchenko, an analyst at the social network for investors eToro in Russia and CIS has the opposite view. He is sure virtual money is here to stay.

The cryptocurrency market is very deep, and different currencies offer different solutions for investors, it is not only about bitcoin.

“IOTA crypto is about microtransactions without commissions. Ethereum is good for “smart contracts,” dash and the like are autonomous and so on. Bitcoin is used not only as a financial asset or as a means of exchange, but also as an alternative currency necessary for investing in competitive and complementary projects of the cryptocurrency industry,” he told RT.

The analyst is sure that as long as blockchain-based technologies continue to emerge, the industry will grow and bitcoin has a bright future.

Bitcoin is also highly unlikely to end like the Wall Street Crash of 1929, and doesn’t resemble other stock market crashes either, insists Mashchenko.

“Comparing bitcoins with the bubbles of the past is pointless: nothing like this has happened. Tulip Mania is different. Tulips were luxury goods for a narrow circle of people, and not for widespread use. The crises of 1929 and 2008 are very similar to each other, but have nothing to do with cryptocurrencies,” he said.

The dot-com bubble is more or less close to cryptocurrencies, the analyst admits, but the best companies of the dot-com era of 1997-2001 are prospering in 2017, having significantly increased their market cap.

However, bitcoin can be a very risky for first-time investors, the analyst warns.

“They do not know the elementary rules of trading and therefore buy at the highest prices and close their positions in panic at the slightest drop. A huge percentage of these people will lose money.”

 

Israel quits UNESCO over ‘attacks’

December 22, 2017

Associated Press

Israel has announced it is leaving UNESCO citing the UN cultural agency’s “systematic attacks” on the Jewish state.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon said on Friday that the decision was based on the organisation’s “attempts to disconnect Jewish history from the land of Israel”.

He said the official letter of departure will be submitted before the year’s end and that Israel will leave the organisation by the end of 2018.

Earlier this year the US said it will withdraw from UNESCO, also at that time, citing similar reasons.

Israel has long complained of perceived anti-Israel bias within the UN, where Israel and its allies are far outnumbered by Arab countries and their supporters.

Recent resolutions by the organisation outraged many Israelis who viewed them as diminishing the deep Jewish ties to Jerusalem and the biblical city of Hebron.

 

Tech’s terrible year: how the world turned on Silicon Valley in 2017

From the #DeleteUber campaign to fake news, the industry found itself in the crosshairs this year – and it was a long time coming, experts say

December 23, 2016

by Olivia Solon in San Francisco

The Guardian

When Jonathan Taplin’s book Move Fast and Break Things, which dealt with the worrying rise of big tech, was first published in the UK in April 2017, his publishers removed its subtitle because they didn’t think it was supported by evidence: “How Facebook, Google and Amazon cornered culture and undermined democracy.”

When the paperback edition comes out early next year, that subtitle will be restored.

“It’s been a sea change in just six months,” Taplin said. “Before that, people were kind of asleep.”

In the last year, barely a day has gone by without a scandal placing technology companies in the spotlight, whether for sexual harassment, livestreamed murder, Russian influence operations or terrorist propaganda.

Tech’s annus horribilis started with calls to #DeleteUber, but the way things are going it will end with calls to delete the entire internet.

“2017 has definitely been a year when tech has found there is a target painted on its back,” said Om Malik, a venture capitalist. “The big companies have been so obsessed with growth that there’s been a lack of social responsibility. Now the chickens are coming home to roost.”

The surprise election of Donald Trump acted as a catalyst for scrutiny of the platforms that shape so much of our online experience. Even so, it’s taken many months for the enormity of their role to sink in.

Perhaps the biggest wake-up call has been the showdown in Washington. Congress summoned representatives from Facebook, Twitter and Google to testify over their role in a multi-pronged Russian operation to influence the 2016 presidential election. All three companies admitted that Russian entities bought ads on their sites in an attempt to skew the vote.

In Facebook’s case, fake accounts pushed divisive messages in swing states; Google found similar activity across its paid search tool and YouTube; and on Twitter, armies of bots and fake users promoted fake news stories that were favourable to Donald Trump. Similar patterns were identified around the Brexit vote.

“The election shows the stakes involved here,” said Noam Cohen, author of The Know-It-Alls: The Rise of Silicon Valley as a Political Powerhouse and Social Wrecking Ball. “In the past, to be a critic of Silicon Valley was to say the smartphone is making us dumb. Now it’s incompatible with democracy.”

It’s not been the only example of technology companies monetising and distributing unpalatable content and acting surprised when it’s uncovered.

In March, the Times of London revealed that YouTube had paid, via an advertising revenue share, Islamic extremists to peddle hate speech, leading to a boycott from many major advertisers. A second boycott started this month after brands discovered that their ads were appearing alongside content being exploited by paedophiles.

In May, the Guardian’s investigation into Facebook’s content moderation policies revealed that the social network flouted Holocaust denial laws except where it feared being sued. Four months later, Pro Publica discovered that Facebook’s ad tools could be used to target “Jew haters”.

Facebook’s chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, later said she was “disgusted” and “disappointed that our systems allowed this”.

Taplin finds the technology companies’ standard response of “Oops, we’ll fix this” frustrating and disingenuous.

“Come on! What were you thinking?” he said. “If I can target women who drink bourbon in Tennessee who like trucks, then of course I could use it for dark purposes.”

The deepening pockets and growing influence of companies like Facebook, Amazon, Google and Apple has raised concerns that they have become Goliaths, threatening the innovation Silicon Valley was once known for.

You only have to look at Snap to see what happens when you nip at the heels of a tech titan like Facebook: first, it makes an offer to buy you – a strategy that worked with Instagram and WhatsApp – and, if that fails, it eliminates you.

In Snap’s case, this meant watching Facebook clone all of Snapchat’s features – awkwardly at first, but relentlessly until Snapchat’s potential slice of the advertising market shriveled to a sliver.

“[The Snap CEO] Evan Spiegel is having his hat handed to him,” Taplin said, noting how Snap’s stock had plummeted since the company went public in March.

As power consolidates into the hands of a few, the best a startup can hope for is to be bought by one of the tech giants. This, in turn, leads to further consolidation.

So the five largest tech companies – desperate to avoid the kind of antitrust regulation that disrupted IBM and Microsoft’s dominance – are flooding Washington with lobbyists, to the point where they now outspend Wall Street two to one.

“Regulation is coming,” said Malik. “We have got to prepare for that. Everybody has figured out that we are the enemy number one now because we are rich and all the politicians smell blood.”

It doesn’t help that there’s a rising number of former Silicon Valley engineers and business leaders who have morphed into tech dissenters, complaining about the addictive properties of the platforms and call for people – particularly children – to unplug.

In November, Facebook’s founding president, Sean Parker, said the social network knew from the outset it was creating something addictive, something that exploited “a vulnerability in human psychology” – a damning critique somewhat undermined by the fact that it was being delivered from the top of an enormous money pile generated by that exploitation.

The vast wealth on display in Silicon Valley – in the private commuter buses, sprawling campuses and luxury condos – does little to endear the companies and their employees to the rest of the world. Like it or not, tech workers have become the shining beacons of prosperity and elitism, shining a bit too brightly at a time of increasing income inequality.

The fact that $700 internet-connected juicers can raise $120m in funding before folding adds to the sense that Silicon Valley has lost its grip on reality.

“Silicon Valley at its core wants to solve problems. I just think we’ve lost touch with the types of problems that actual people need solving,” said Ankur Jain, who set up Kairos Society to encourage more entrepreneurs to solve problems where everyday people are being financially squeezed, such as housing, student loans and job retraining in the face of automation.

“People are so removed from the rest of the ecosystem in Silicon Valley that these problems feel more like charity issues rather than issues that affect the vast majority of the population,” Jain said.

For Malik, many of the problems stem from the fact that Silicon Valley companies have remained “wilfully ignorant” of the fact that “at the end of every data point there is a human being”.

All the problems to have arisen over the last year are particularly jarring given the tech companies’ continued insistence that they are doing good for the world.

“It’s a form of gaslighting to have these companies doing so many harmful things telling you how great they are and how much they are helping you. It’s another form of abuse,” Cohen said.

Malik agreed. “Silicon Valley is very good at using words like empathy and social responsibility as marketing buzzwords, but they are terms that we need to internalise as an industry and show through our actions by building the right things,” he said. “Otherwise it’s all bullshit.”

 

No responses yet

Leave a Reply