Are Google and Facebook Just Pretending They Want Limits on NSA Surveillance?

By Elise Ackerman

Photo via Flickr user Ludovic Toinel

Revelations about the National Security Agency’s most controversial surveillance program, which centers on the bulk collection of hundreds of billions of records of Americans’ phone conversations, were quickly greeted with calls for reform by major internet powerhouses like Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo last year. But all four companies, along with dozens of other major tech firms, are actively opposing an initiative to prevent NSA spying known as the Fourth Amendment Protection Act, leaning on secretive industry lobbying groups while they profess outrage in official statements.

Virtually immediate public condemnation of government spying put the industry in an uncomfortable position when the Snowden leaks began pouring out in June 2013, and in carefully written responses to news reports claiming that they’d cooperated with the now notorious PRISM apparatus, these tech companies emphasized their compliance with existing laws that require them to hand over user data under certain conditions.

“When governments ask Facebook for data, we review each request carefully to make sure they always follow the correct processes and all applicable laws, and then only provide the information if [it] is required by law,” Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of Facebook, wrote in a blog post last June. “We will continue fighting aggressively to keep your information safe and secure.”

Statements like this suggest Zuckerberg and his industry peers would support legislative efforts to rein in surveillance, and it’s true that they’ve called for reform in letters to the Senate Judiciary Committee applauding a bill known as the USA Freedom Act. Google, Facebook, and six other tech giants have even hired a firm that claims to fight NSA surveillance on their behalf.

The real action, however, has been much subtler, with the industry wielding its influence behind closed doors using two lobbying groups to oppose certain restrictions on internet surveillance: the IT Alliance for Public Sector (ITAPS) and the State Privacy and Security Coalition (SPSC). A look at the actions of these two groups suggests that the companies want reform, sure, but only on terms that don’t affect their day-to-day business.

In particular, VICE has uncovered that ITAPS and SPSC have sent letters to politicians lobbying against the Fourth Amendment Protection Act, a wide-sweeping bill that would limit the NSA’s ability to read private electronic communications without a warrant.

Anti-surveillance bills have been introduced over the past year in more than half the states in the union, ranging from narrow laws that would require warrants for location data and email to more sweeping efforts to fight back against federal intrusions by outlawing cooperation with government agencies that engage in electronic-data collection without a warrant. The Fourth Amendment Protection Act, which has been introduced in more than a dozen states, denies state resources to federal agencies that collect electronic data without a warrant, and to companies that do the agencies’ dirty work for them. Drafted last year by a small group of nonpartisan legal activists affiliated with the Tenth Amendment Center and the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, the bill is a grassroots attempt to force the NSA to change its data-collection practices—a position that has since been endorsed by the president and members of Congress, albeit in more limited form.

“I think this bill is in the finest traditions of state governments opposing federal encroachments,” said Bruce Fein, a former associate deputy attorney general and general counsel to the Federal Communications Commission at a March hearing in Maryland. “It’s important to remember that the Fourth Amendment right to privacy was the spark of the American revolution.”

State legislatures around the country have held a number of hearings on the bill, including one last month in Maryland. During these hearings, groups representing law enforcement and district attorneys have complained that the proposed legislation is too broad and would hamper criminal investigations and prosecutions. But corporate adversaries of the act have been conspicuously absent. They haven’t engaged in a public debate about the law, such as the one Google’s Larry Page called for during his appearance at the TED 2014 conference in Seattle.

In states such as California, Tennesse, and Missouri, state legislators aren’t required to discole their contacts with industry front groups under existing public records laws. When I tried to verify which government officials have been contacted by ITAPS and the SPSC, elected officials were naturally reluctant to acknowledge them. Two lawmakers—State Senator Stacey Campfield, a Republican from Tennessee, and State Senator Joel Anderson, a Republican from California—indicated they had not been contacted by the groups, though documents obtained by VICE confirmed that they had both received letters from ITAPS.

Only one lawmaker, State Senator Ted Lieu of California, voluntarily provided a copy of the letter he had received from ITAPS, a division of the Information Technology Industry Council (ITI). Founded in 1916, ITI claims to be the tech industry’s oldest trade association. It describes itself as the “premier advocacy and policy organization for the world’s leading innovation companies” and prides itself on providing “creative solutions and policy advocacy that advance the development and use of technology around the world.” In addition to the internet giants, the 56 members of ITI listed on its website include Apple, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Intel, IBM, Oracle, and Samsung.

In a February 20 letter to State Senator Lieu, Carol Henton, a vice president of ITAPS, said that the anti-surveillance bill would have “negative implications for companies that are seeking to make manufacturing and business investments in the state of California.” Henton specifically objected to a provision of the bill that barred state agencies, employees, and contractors from using public funds to engage in any activity that aids the federal government from collecting any individual’s electronic data without a warrant. “Many California-based companies provide technology goods and analytic services which are important to the provision of national and homeland security for U.S. citizens and this would seem to unnecessarily jeopardize their ability to compete for business with the state or political subdivisions,” Henton wrote.

Henton met with Lieu’s office in the first week of April. In an interview responding to some questions I had about the meeting, Lieu said that Henton and others appeared to be misinterpreting the bill, but added that he has been contacted by multiple companies and stakeholders and that he was going to amend the bill to reflect their concerns.

James Halpert, general counsel for the SPSC, said in an interview that it wasn’t fair that companies that complied with requests from the NSA—as is required by existing law—would be barred from state contracts. “The bill would place many of our members in an impossible, Catch-22 situation—be held in contempt of court or be disqualified from contracts with the State of Arizona or any political subdivision,” he wrote in a February 10 letter to State Senator Kelli Ward of Arizona. Formed in 2008 with the goal of harmonizing state and federal legislation, the SPSC includes AT&T, Verizon, Comcast, Cox Communications, and Time Warner Cable, along with Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo. Members discuss state legislation in a weekly call with Halpert.

In his letter, Halpert warned that the bill would have unintended consequences. “For example, if the Arizona state government or any locality uses Microsoft Outlook or Google email services, it would not be able to continue doing so under SB 1156 (Arizona’s version of the Fourth Amendment Protection Act) because both companies are legally required to provide evidence to the federal government. Instead, Arizona and its subdivisions would have to cease using those services and find new—potentially more expensive—providers,” he wrote.

Michael Maharrey, a spokesman for the Tenth Amendment Center, said Halpert’s concerns could be addressed relatively easily with an amendment that clarifies that the bill would not apply to companies that were forced to provide user data in response to a court order. But Henton’s letter indicates the tech companies’ objections run much deeper. “ITAPS is essentially opposed to the bill because it will do what the bill is intended to do,” Maharrey said in an interview. “The intent of that section is to stop the companies from cooperating with the NSA and violating our civil liberties. We want companies to make a choice.”

It’s not a choice the companies themselves care to make. Principles such as requiring the government to obtain a search warrant based on probable cause to access a person’s private communications or documents stored online sound great in the abstract, but not, apparently, at the expense of achieving traditional business goals.

http://www.vice.com/read/are-google-and-facebook-just-pretending-they-want-limits-on-nsa-surveillance?utm_source=vicenewsletter

Capitalism simply isn’t working and here are the reasons why

Economist Thomas Piketty’s message is bleak:
the gap between rich and poor threatens to destroy us

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Thomas Piketty has mined 200 years of data to support his theory that capitalism does not work. Photograph: Ed Alcock for the Observer

Suddenly, there is a new economist making waves – and he is not on the right. At the conference of the Institute of New Economic Thinking in Toronto last week, Thomas Piketty’s book Capital in the Twenty-First Century got at least one mention at every session I attended. You have to go back to the 1970s and Milton Friedman for a single economist to have had such an impact.

Like Friedman, Piketty is a man for the times. For 1970s anxieties about inflation substitute today’s concerns about the emergence of the plutocratic rich and their impact on economy and society. Piketty is in no doubt, as he indicates in an interview in today’s Observer New Review, that the current level of rising wealth inequality, set to grow still further, now imperils the very future of capitalism. He has proved it.

It is a startling thesis and one extraordinarily unwelcome to those who think capitalism and inequality need each other. Capitalism requires inequality of wealth, runs this right-of-centre argument, to stimulate risk-taking and effort; governments trying to stem it with taxes on wealth, capital, inheritance and property kill the goose that lays the golden egg. Thus Messrs Cameron and Osborne faithfully champion lower inheritance taxes, refuse to reshape the council tax and boast about the business-friendly low capital gains and corporation tax regime.

Piketty deploys 200 years of data to prove them wrong. Capital, he argues, is blind. Once its returns – investing in anything from buy-to-let property to a new car factory – exceed the real growth of wages and output, as historically they always have done (excepting a few periods such as 1910 to 1950), then inevitably the stock of capital will rise disproportionately faster within the overall pattern of output. Wealth inequality rises exponentially.

The process is made worse by inheritance and, in the US and UK, by the rise of extravagantly paid “super managers”. High executive pay has nothing to do with real merit, writes Piketty – it is much lower, for example, in mainland Europe and Japan. Rather, it has become an Anglo-Saxon social norm permitted by the ideology of “meritocratic extremism”, in essence, self-serving greed to keep up with the other rich. This is an important element in Piketty’s thinking: rising inequality of wealth is not immutable. Societies can indulge it or they can challenge it.

Inequality of wealth in Europe and US is broadly twice the inequality of income – the top 10% have between 60% and 70% of all wealth but merely 25% to 35% of all income. But this concentration of wealth is already at pre-First World War levels, and heading back to those of the late 19th century, when the luck of who might expect to inherit what was the dominant element in economic and social life. There is an iterative interaction between wealth and income: ultimately, great wealth adds unearned rentier income to earned income, further ratcheting up the inequality process.

The extravagances and incredible social tensions of Edwardian England, belle epoque France and robber baron America seemed for ever left behind, but Piketty shows how the period between 1910 and 1950, when that inequality was reduced, was aberrant. It took war and depression to arrest the inequality dynamic, along with the need to introduce high taxes on high incomes, especially unearned incomes, to sustain social peace. Now the ineluctable process of blind capital multiplying faster in fewer hands is under way again and on a global scale. The consequences, writes Piketty, are “potentially terrifying”.

For a start, almost no new entrepreneurs, except one or two spectacular Silicon Valley start-ups, can ever make sufficient new money to challenge the incredibly powerful concentrations of existing wealth. In this sense, the “past devours the future”. It is telling that the Duke of Westminster and the Earl of Cadogan are two of the richest men in Britain. This is entirely by virtue of the fields in Mayfair and Chelsea their families owned centuries ago and the unwillingness to clamp down on the loopholes that allow the family estates to grow.

Anyone with the capacity to own in an era when the returns exceed those of wages and output will quickly become disproportionately and progressively richer. The incentive is to be a rentier rather than a risk-taker: witness the explosion of buy-to-let. Our companies and our rich don’t need to back frontier innovation or even invest to produce: they just need to harvest their returns and tax breaks, tax shelters and compound interest will do the rest.

Capitalist dynamism is undermined, but other forces join to wreck the system. Piketty notes that the rich are effective at protecting their wealth from taxation and that progressively the proportion of the total tax burden shouldered by those on middle incomes has risen. In Britain, it may be true that the top 1% pays a third of all income tax, but income tax constitutes only 25% of all tax revenue: 45% comes from VAT, excise duties and national insurance paid by the mass of the population.

As a result, the burden of paying for public goods such as education, health and housing is increasingly shouldered by average taxpayers, who don’t have the wherewithal to sustain them. Wealth inequality thus becomes a recipe for slowing, innovation-averse, rentier economies, tougher working conditions and degraded public services. Meanwhile, the rich get ever richer and more detached from the societies of which they are part: not by merit or hard work, but simply because they are lucky enough to be in command of capital receiving higher returns than wages over time. Our collective sense of justice is outraged.

The lesson of the past is that societies try to protect themselves: they close their borders or have revolutions – or end up going to war. Piketty fears a repeat. His critics argue that with higher living standards resentment of the ultra-rich may no longer be as great – and his data is under intense scrutiny for mistakes. So far it has all held up.

Nor does it seem likely that human beings’ inherent sense of justice has been suspended. Of course the reaction plays out differently in different eras: I suspect some of the energy behind Scottish nationalism is the desire to build a country where toxic wealth inequalities are less indulged than in England.

The solutions – a top income tax rate of up to 80%, effective inheritance tax, proper property taxes and, because the issue is global, a global wealth tax – are currently inconceivable.

But as Piketty says, the task of economists is to make them more conceivable. Capital certainly does that.

 

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/apr/12/capitalism-isnt-working-thomas-piketty?CMP=fb_gu

Why No One Trusts Facebook To Power The Future

Facebook has a perception problem—consumers just don’t trust it.

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April 03, 2014

In the coming years, one billion more people will gain access to the Internet thanks to drones and satellites hovering in the stratosphere.

And soon, we’ll be able to sit down with friends in foreign countries and immerse ourselves in experiences never previously thought possible, simply by slipping on a pair of virtual reality goggles.

These aren’t just gaseous hypotheticals touted by Silicon Valley startups, but efforts led by one company, whose mission is to make the world more open and connected. If one company actually pulled off all of these accomplishments, it might seem like people would fall in love with it—but once you know it’s Facebook, you might feel differently. And you’re not alone.

Facebook has a perception problem, which is largely driven by the fact it controls huge amounts of data and uses people as fodder for advertising. Facebook has been embroiled in numerous privacy controversies over the years, and was built from the ground up by a kid who basically double-crossed his Harvard colleagues to pull it off in the first place.

These days, Facebook appears to be growing up by taking billion-dollar bets on future technology hits like WhatsApp and Oculus in order to expedite its own puberty.

Its billion-dollar moves in recent weeks point to a new Facebook, one that takes risks investing in technologies that have not yet borne fruit, but could easily be the “next big thing” in tech. One such investment, the $2 billion acquisition of Oculus, left many people scratching their heads as to why a social network would pick up a technology that arguably makes people less social, since Oculus is all about immersive gaming. At least the WhatsApp purchase makes a little more sense strategy-wise, even if the $19 billion deal was bad for users.

So begins Facebook’s transition from a simple social network to a full-fledged technology company that rivals Google, moonshot for moonshot.

Companies need to keep things fresh in order to make us want them, but Facebook, like Barney Stintson from How I Met Your Mother, just can’t shake its ultimately flawed nature and gain the trust of consumers.

The Ultimate Data Hoard

If you think you’re in control of your personal information, think again.

Perhaps the largest driver of skepticism towards Facebook is the level of control it gives users—which is arguably limited. Sure, you can edit your profile so other people can’t see your personal information, but Facebook can, and it uses your data to serve advertisers.

Keep in mind: This is information you provided just once in the last 10 years—for instance, when you first registered your account and offered up your favorite movies, TV shows and books—is now given tangentially to advertisers or companies wanting a piece of your pocketbook.

Not even your Likes can control what you see in your news feed anymore. Page updates from brands, celebrities, or small businesses that you subscribed to with a “Like” are omitted from your News Feed when page owners refuse to pay. Your Like was once good enough to keep an update on your News Feed, but now the company is cutting the flow of traffic and limiting status views by updating its algorithms—a move many people think is unfair, if not shiesty.

It’s not just Page posts taking a hit, audience-wise—even your own posts could be seen by fewer people if Facebook deems them “low-quality.”

To help eliminate links it doesn’t consider “news” like Upworthy or ViralNova, Facebook tweaked its algorithm to show fewer low-quality posts in favor of more newsworthy material, like stories from The New York Times. Of course, most people appreciate this move since click-bait links can get truly annoying, but it’s concerning that Facebook has so much control over the firehose of information you put in front of your eyes every single day.

Facebook owns virtually all the aspects of the social experience—photos (Instagram), status updates (Facebook), location services (Places)—but it has also become your social identity thanks to Facebook Login, which allows it to integrate with almost everything else on the Internet. This means if you’re not spending time on Facebook, you’re using Facebook to spend time online elsewhere.

It’s this corporate control of traffic that leads to frustration from those that believe Facebook owns too much, and that working with Facebook is like smacking the indie community hard across the face.

In a sense, people are stuck. They initially trusted a company with their data and information, and in return, those people feel—often justifiably—that they’re being taken advantage of. When the time comes for someone to abandon Facebook, whether over privacy concerns or frustration with the company, Facebook intentionally makes it hard to leave.

Even if you delete your account, your ghost remains. Your email address is still tied to a Facebook account and your face is still recognizably tagged as you, even if the account it’s associated with has vanished. In this way, Facebook is almost like any other cable company—even when you die, Facebook can still make money off you. And that’s not behavior fit for a company that’s poised to take over the future.

Leveling Up

Facebook missed the boat on mobile, and its much-maligned Android application interface Facebook Home was a major failure. Though Home was a small step into hardware, it was one users clearly didn’t want.

Now Facebook is dreaming bigger. With recent acquisitions like Oculus and drone maker Titan Aerospace, the company is looking to expand outside of its social shell and be taken seriously as a technology company and moonshot manufacturer.

Facebook’s well-known slogan “move fast and break things” is regularly applied to new products and features—undoubtedly a large part of Home’s initial failure. The company is ready to try again, this time with technologies and applications that consumers aren’t yet familiar with. But this has created more questions than answers in the eyes of users and investors. And that’s not good for a company with an existing perception problem like Facebook.

People see Facebook moving fast and breaking things to serve its own purposes, not for the benefit of the Internet, or in the case of Oculus, the benefit of dedicated fans.

Facebook isn’t leaving the social realm, at least not yet. It’s still relying on the flagship website to power its larger plans, particularly Internet.org, which aims to bring the next billion people online.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg wants a Facebook that connects the world, becoming a convenient way for people to find one another, and a gateway for Internet connectivity in developing countries.

Zuckerberg announced last week how he plans to bring the Internet.org initiative into fruition—and it sounds like a plan straight out of a sci-fi novel. The company is putting its newly-acquired drones to work, powering the Internet in communities that don’t yet have it, which is being accompanied by other technologies like lasers and satellites to distribute the connectivity in largely-populated areas.

When Zuckerberg first announced Internet.org, he initially threw shade at Google’s similar Project Loon, which attempts to connect the world via Wi-Fi balloons.

“Drones have more endurance than balloons while also being able to have their location precisely controlled,” he wrote in a white paper explaining the project. Of course regardless of the method, with more people online, Facebook will control more data and information, and have a larger pool of people to use for advertising.

To gain more users—and keep the ones it has—Facebook needs to change. But when Facebook’s CEO starts talking about drones and lasers powering the Internet, despite the company’s history of reckless privacy policies, it immediately sets off red flags for users.

Facebook Is Growing Up

Last October, when Facebook finally admitted teenagers were abandoning the network for other hot services like Snapchat and Tumblr, the Internet heaved a collective, “Told you so!” 

But teens aren’t the future for Facebook. Zuckerberg’s company has ambitions that go beyond selfies. It can’t remain the same forever, especially if it wants to stay relevant in the ever-changing technological landscape.

Facebook wants to build the Internet’s future infrastructure. It wants to be a part of the technology of that power the next billion people’s online experiences ten more years down the road. Zuckerberg has personally tried to bolster his raw perception with his $1 salary—a symbolic gesture, sure, but nothing Steve Jobs or Bill Gates hadn’t done before.

To build and control the future it wants, it will have to “be more cool” and ease up on its control of users. Facebook has many exciting projects, but it won’t have an audience left unless it addresses its perception problem. Trust is paramount, especially on the Internet, and people need to know that Facebook is making things to improve the human experience, not just spending billions to make even more billions off our personal information.

Facebook has a great opportunity to improve its image with its exciting multi-billion dollar acquisitions. Prove to us you don’t just care about money, Facebook, and perhaps we’ll all realize how much you really have grown in the last 10 years.

Lead image by Madeleine Weiss for ReadWrite; Oculus Rift photo by Adriana Lee for ReadWrite; drone photo courtesy of Titan Aerospace

http://readwrite.com/2014/04/03/facebook-whatsapp-oculus-drones-lasers#awesm=~oAHsnDifdw62lz

A Program to Control Internet Communications?

The Drones of Facebook (and the NSA)

by ALFREDO LOPEZ

“Connectivity,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in a CNN interview last year, “is a human right.”

If it surprises you that one of the kings of the corporate Internet would repeat a slogan used by Internet activists to mobilize against companies like his, examine the context. Zuckerberg made his remark to support and explain a new set of Facebook strategies that will, if successful, put the world’s Internet connectivity under his company’s control.

It’s called internet.org which is not only a real website but a consortium of companies and government agencies Facebook is leading. The very name — “internet.org” — also provides a glimpse of Facebook’s intentions.

Using a combination of drones, satellites and other technologies, Facebook seeks to bring connectivity to the entire world. The picture is remarkable: Facebook satellites and drones with six month life cycles will bounce every connection signals (like Wify) to people in every corner of the earth. Every human being will now have access to the Internet.

On its face, it’s a wonderful idea until you realize that this would put all the world’s connectivity in the hands of one company and a coalition of partners it’s brought on to realize the project. Those partners, by the way, include — are you ready? — the National Security Agency of the United States.

Zuckerberg reminds us that this isn’t imminent; it’s a project for what he calls “the far-off future”. But he doesn’t explain how far off “far-off” is. Connectivity projects are a process and portions of the world would be progressively “hooked up”. In fact, his company has already invested $1 billion in the project and, he says, will continuously invest a lot more.

The people of the world are, Zuckerman says, “… going to use it to decide what kind of government they want, get access to healthcare for the first time ever, connect with family hundreds of miles away that they haven’t seen in decades.”

The Facebook announcements followed by a year an announcement by Google that it’s researching how to use huge balloons to bring the Internet to the world or at least to remote locations in it. Google calls it “Project Loon”.

The obscene irony in using drone technology (used, among many other things, to kill thousands of people a year) to bring the human race together is offensive, but the very real threat posed by putting most people’s communications in the hands of one company is deeply disturbing. To grasp that threat and the reason behind these initiatives, one must understand that this is a corporate response to a very real problem.

If you live in the United States (or one of what are commonly called “developed countries), most people you know are probably connected in some way to the Internet. In fact, over 70 percent of the households in this country are Internet- capable. The same is roughly true of Canada, much of Europe, Japan and the People’s Republic of China. But Africa is a different story: only 7 percent are connected there. Latin America varies with about 30 percent of Mexico connected, 60 percent in Brazil (one of the leading Internet countries) and about 55 percent in Venezuela, but less than 20 percent in most of the other countries. Besides China and Japan, Asia , at under 20 percent connected, is almost as unconnected as Africa.

(Here’s an interactive map with the precise numbers by country.)

The implications of the problem are obvious: people can’t communicate in those places like they can here and that frustrates the very purpose of the Internet, curtailing the possibilities it provides for collaboration and social change.

The reasons for the problem are just as obvious. For one thing, technology is hampered by under-developed infrastructure — the absence of the electricity and telephone wires we take for granted and that the Internet thrives on. Additionally, governments in many of these countries are reluctant to prioritize communications — often for obvious reasons, since a communicating population often overthrows bad governments. Finally, there are tight and restrictive controls placed on these regions by the communications companies that serve them. Nobody is looking to expand the Internet very aggressively in much of the world.

That’s a problem for most us but it’s a different kind of problem for Facebook. While activists and organizers see the problem as an impediment to organizing, Facebook sees the problem in terms of market. Right now, the ubiquitous social networking giant has about a billion people signed up. If you don’t think that’s marketing gold, consider the fact that Zuckerman’s stock in Facebook is now worth about $3 billion. But capitalists don’t sit around counting their money like Mafia chieftans; they look for ways to make more of it. If Facebook is going to expand its user-base, and to cash in on the advertising revenues those numbers generate, it has to look to the rest of the world. To do that, it has to put the rest of the world on-line.

While the intent is the same, the reasons underscore the divergence in potential outcomes. If you connect a population to the Internet, and it depends on that connection, your ability to turn it off gives you virtually dictatorial powers. Governments in some countries have, in the recent past, shut off portions of the Internet to their populations — a means of political control or for the quashing of growing social movements. Activists can get around those restrictions using other lines of communication or other systems…provided they can access them. But it one company can stop all access, that option for free communication is gone.

But the more pressing problem is in terms of content delivery. With the recent court decision on Net Neutrality, a providing company has power to provide fuller access to some sites and to slow access to others. It can now, under the law, simply deny access to certain content to its users. When a company controls access for 10 million users (like Comcast, for instance), the outcome is horrible. But when a company controls access for several billion, it’s devastating.

What’s even more disturbing is who Facebook is partnering with. What in the world is the NSA doing as part of this “connect the world” coalition? Facebook will only say the NSA is working on research to use its satellite system to expand connectivity. But if the agency is handling that chunk of connectivity, what will that mean for people’s privacy and rights?

The NSA spies on everyone it can. It collects all the data it can. It has shown no respect for people’s rights or for constitutional restrictions. It is a criminal organization and, under this plan, it would control Internet access for large parts of the world.

Are all these horrors coming to fruition?

Many “experts” and pundits would caution us against being paranoid. The project is far off from completion although the technology for it is actually feasible and could be put in place in a couple of years. You have to negotiate with countries and other companies and all that takes time, as several technology columnists have pointed out.

But if you have that kind of power, negotiations can be scaled down to a matter of money — a fee paid to any specific government and, in this technology world, money talks. How may cash-starved developing country governments, offered usage fees and basic “authority” over their people’s connectivity, are going to turn down an offer to put their population on line? All Facebook would have to do is assure a government some basic “control”.

Besides, since the program can be incrementally realized, Facebook can prioritize certain sections of the world over others. One can only imagine the problems that would produce.

In the end, though, whether the company would do any or all of this or not isn’t the issue. We structure our rights to make sure that decisions about them are never in the hands of one person or one institution. If connectivity is, as Zuckerberg says, “a human right”, then it should never be up to him or his company to decide who among us has it, how and when.

Alfredo Lopez writes about technology issues for This Can’t Be Happening!

 

http://www.counterpunch.org/2014/04/03/the-drones-of-facebook-and-the-nsa/

 

The Brutal Ageism of Tech Years of experience, plenty of talent, completely obsolete


 

“I have more botox in me than any ten people,” Dr. Seth Matarasso told me in an exam room this February.

He is a reality-show producer’s idea of a cosmetic surgeon—his demeanor brash, his bone structure preposterous. Over the course of our hour-long conversation, he would periodically fire questions at me, apropos of nothing, in the manner of my young daughter. “What gym do you go to?” “What’s your back look like?” “Who did your nose?” In lieu of bidding me goodbye, he called out, “Love me, mean it,” as he walked away.

Twenty years ago, when Matarasso first opened shop in San Francisco, he found that he was mostly helping patients in late middle age: former homecoming queens, spouses who’d been cheated on, spouses looking to cheat. Today, his practice is far larger and more lucrative than he could have ever imagined. He sees clients across a range of ages. He says he’s the world’s second-biggest dispenser of Botox. But this growth has nothing to do with his endearingly nebbishy mien. It is, rather, the result of a cultural revolution that has taken place all around him in the Bay Area.

Silicon Valley has become one of the most ageist places in America. Tech luminaries who otherwise pride themselves on their dedication to meritocracy don’t think twice about deriding the not-actually-old. “Young people are just smarter,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told an audience at Stanford back in 2007. As I write, the website of ServiceNow, a large Santa Clara–based I.T. services company, features the following advisory in large letters atop its “careers” page: “We Want People Who Have Their Best Work Ahead of Them, Not Behind Them.”

CONTINUED:  http://www.newrepublic.com/article/117088/silicons-valleys-brutal-ageism

The Rise of the “Silicon Valley Bay”

 

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March 19, 2014

Shamako Noble, Green Shadow Cabinet Secretary of Culture, commentator and community organizer has lived all over the Bay Area. He sees an escalation in the number of people who no longer can afford to live in the cities they grew up in as corporations move in and increase the cost of living. He named this phenomenon “Silicon Valley Bay.”

On March 6th, 2014, Silicon Valley De-Bug, in association with SJ Zulu, CHAM (Christian Homeless Alliance Ministries), Working Partnerships and the South Bay Labor Council held an event that was centered around a music video. The video was called, “Gold Out West” by Andrew “Society” Bigelow. The song was inspired by the “March to Heal the Valley” an effort led by CHAM in late 2013 to address the growing disparity between the rich and the poor in Silicon Valley –  one of the countries leaders in “economic recovery.”

Silicon Valley in itself is a telling case study. It is an orgy of monied interests represented by the negotiation taking place between technology giants, real estate moguls, speculative bankers and state interests. In many ways, it is an attempted reorganization of what we refer to as the Bay Area into a new symbolic location being referred to as the Silicon Valley Bay Area.

The struggle to hold technology companies accountable becomes clearer and clearer as organizations like CHAM and Silicon Valley De-Bug in the South Bay, and WEAP and SEIU 1021 in the East Bay and San Francisco, work to hold Goliath’s like Apple, Twitter and Goldman Sachs accountable for their tax revenue, debt schemes and direct thievery of public property. Meanwhile, San Jose, a place once known as the safest city in America is now home to the largest Tent City in the country, right up the street from Cisco and Ebay’s campuses. In a city swimming in the wealth and vision of programming moguls, people freeze to death in their cars.

In the East Bay, years of assault on the safety net and increased attacks on public workers continue to take their toll while unionized and non-unionized workers alike struggle to fight for their human rights. Last year, transportation workers took on management and money in a direct clash that resulted in the first transportation works strike in decades. And despite the unfortunate and unnecessary death of two workers forcing management to concede to demands, within a few weeks management was back up to their old tricks, trying to pull out of their agreement on a technicality. Meanwhile, the state legislature continues to shape a law that would not only contest transportation workers right to strike, but would make reporting “strike advocates” and trouble makers to state authorities. Additionally, in both Oakland and San Francisco, Google, Twitter, and Yahoo continue to take steps to separate their companies transportation programs from the rest of public transportation.

In San Francisco, the workers of SEIU 1021, the employees and residents of public housing, and the students, faculty and administration of community college all face the increasingly menacing and unrelenting face of the enemy of displacement. A city that used to represent the hopes and dreams of artists, students, families and immigrants alike is quickly becoming too expensive for even those making well above $100,000 a year. Over the course of this year, San Francisco will see struggles the likes of which it has never seen, and a city once held as a bastion of liberal thought and progressive politics could soon be the poster child for a West Coast city completed owned and operated by private interests.

The Bay Area, a place that gave birth to revolutionary justice movements like the Black Panthers and homes to such cultural landmarks of resistance as UC Berkley and the Mission in San Francisco, is rapidly and aggressively being transformed into the backyard and play ground of the ultra rich. And no corporate entity is innocent. Whether it is Chevron in Richmond or Twitter in San Francisco, Goldman Sachs in Oakland or Apple in the South Bay, or Google extended it’s tentacles into every corner of the “Silicon Valley Bay” — the one percent of this region have played their card. The call has been sounded, and the move towards the complete privatization of all public infrastructure is on.

But how will the people respond? What will be the demands of a populous watching all of what they have worked towards, or for young folks who’ve never had it, looking at a world they’ve never had access to. At the forum for the release of the Gold Out West forum, Raj Jayadev of De-Bug commented:

“The organizers, cultural workers, and leaders in this room are the change makers that can change the fate of Valley.”

So what’s the next move?

~ Shamako Noble serves as Secretary of Culture on the General Welfare Branch of the Green Shadow Cabinet.

 

Grumpy Cat, Keyboard Cat and other felines are helping cats (and their owners) build careers on and off YouTube.

 


The Growing Economy of Internet Cat Videos

(Yep, It’s Real)

Photo Credit: Veda J Gonzalez/ Shutterstock.com

The economy of internet cat videos? Yes, it’s a real thing. The Internet Cat Video Festival? Another real thing. A “meme manager” whose job is to build online brands for Keyboard Cat, Nyan Cat and Grumpy Cat? Oh yes, he’s real too.

Veteran You’ve Been Framed viewers will attest to the fact that funny cat videos were a thing long before YouTube, but cats of all shapes, sizes and degrees of grumpiness have become one of the defining content categories on Google’s video service.

A panel session at the SXSW conference this weekend dug into some of the business aspects around this phenomenon, helmed by Scott Stulen, curator of the Internet Cat Video Festival – a travelling jamboree of feline videos which sold 11,000 tickets at last year’s Minnesota State Fair – 3,000 more than Depeche Mode.

The festival has since toured the US, and popped up in Vienna, Jerusalem and Derry. “At each of these events, people showed up their passion for cat videos,” said Stulen, who stressed that the festival itself is a “break-even” event: “it basically just pays for itself, and that’s been the intent from the beginning.”

Stulen was joined on the panel by Will Braden, creator of YouTube channel Henri le Chat Noir, a series of moody “existential” videos shot in black and white which has notched up more than 7.2m views, plus another 10.9m views for the first two videos on Braden’s personal channel.

“In no way did I ever think this was going to be a career, or any money was going to come out of it,” said Braden, who posted the first Henri video six years ago. “I just thought how exciting it was that I was getting millions of views for this video.”

Braden makes money in two ways: from advertising revenues on YouTube, and then income from spin-off products including a book – subtitle: The Existential Musings of an Angst-Filled Cat – and an online merchandise store.

The book was pitched to publishers using a combination of analytics from YouTube and Facebook. “Now, a lot of the guesswork is taken away: you can come to a publisher and say I have this many followers, here’s where they live, here’s how old they are, all of that,” said Braden.

“It changes the way a publisher has to take a risk on a book. If 1% of all of the people who are your friend on Facebook buy this book, we make our money back.”

Henri’s Facebook page has more than 153,000 Likes at the time of writing, while mugs with his most popular slogans on are doing good business from his official store. “God knows why people want to take a mug into work saying ‘I’m surrounded by morons’. That seems a little antagonistic to me,” chuckled Braden.

He went into more detail on the economics of Henri’s popularity on YouTube, noting that it is “a smaller part of the revenue than people think, but also incredibly complex”.

He noted that many cat videos that have gone viral – even those with 100m views or more – make no money at all unless their creator has a “monetised YouTube account” to place ads around their videos and make money from them. The next tier of financial reward comes from securing a YouTube partner account.

With a monetised account “you might get a dollar or two dollars per thousand views, but if you have a YouTube partner account you can easily double that, and get up to six maybe,” said Braden, before showing analytics suggesting that because Henri attracts a disproportionately female audience compared to general YouTube viewership, the channel is more valuable.

“Henri goes all the way up to $10 on a CPM. This is really high. It doesn’t mean I’m rich, but compared to a lot of things on YouTube, this is a very select and very specific audience,” he said, while warning that success has been a matter of trial and error.

“There really is no blueprint in alot of ways to make something like this work. All of us, every success we have or every mistake we make, we’re collecting data for the next guy or gal.”

Remember that “meme manager” mentioned earlier? That’s Ben Lashes, who switched a job as a professional musician for a role managing the careers of a number of cat brands and other YouTube characters. His first client was musical mog Keyboard Cat and its owner Charlie Schmidt in 2010.

“He calls me up and says ‘I don’t know what to do, I’ve got this video that’s blowing up the internet’,” he said. “So we talked about it for an hour straight. I’m a pop culture geek, and saw Keyboard Cat as like any musician that had recorded a song and woken up with a hit song on the radio.”

That original video has been watched nearly 34.6m times, while the dedicated channel launched by Schmidt and Lashes has accumulated another 58m views since 2007, leading Lashes to his second client, Chris Torres – creator of the Nyan Cat meme, which started life as a YouTube video in 2011.

“It hit this new level of mainstream where all of a sudden a new level of people were understanding what cat videos were. The calls we were getting from merchandising were on a different level,” he said. “We had a legit toy company come and make Nyan Cat toys.”

Grumpy Cat followed in 2012: a kitten who shot to internet fame – initially on Reddit and subsequently on YouTube – on the strength of its naturally unimpressed face. Its official channel now has just under 155,000 subscribers and 25.4m views.

As with Henri, the real money has been generated offline, including a spin-off book, public appearances and endorsements – including the announcement this week that Grumpy Cat is the face of cat-food brand Friskies’ latest seafood product.

The book? “This week it’s in its 10th week on the New York Times bestseller list, almost nine months after it came out,” said Lashes. “The second one comes out in July… And Grumpy could care less.”

He suggested that the audience fuelling this demand is large but also diverse. “It isn’t just the crazy cat ladies, although they’re there in droves. It’s the six year-olds chanting the name of their favourite cats. It’s the hipsters there smoking cigarettes, hip-hop dudes, country dudes… It is the kind of thing where you have to learn to make everybody happy,” he said.

“There’s an evolution of the crazy cat lady,” agreed fellow panellist Grace Suriel, director of social media for TV channel Animal Planet, which has been eagerly joining the cat videos bandwagon in recent years. “From all walks of life, people have cat dresses, cat tattoos… it’s a whole new breed of cat person.”

A generous breed. There’s a strong charitable aspect to many of the businesses built around cat videos, from Stulen’s festival raising “tens of thousands of dollars” for animal charities, through to Friskies donating meals to cat shelters every time people tweet its promotional hashtag during SXSW this week.

“The audience is not only very generous, but very aware of problems with feral cats, and the money needed for shelters and things like that,” said Braden. “Charity is not just the ethical thing to do, it’s good business. Every time I was able to say ‘10% of X product goes to charity’ you’d sell 20% more.”

The SXSW session included a clear demonstration of the appeal of internet cat video stars – at least to an audience attending a panel discussion of internet cat videos – when Grumpy Cat appeared with her owner.

Cue a quarter of the audience (at least) scrambling into one corner, smartphones or tablets in hand for shareable shots while the panelists tried to continue holding the attention of the rest of the room with a key question: what is it about cats that has made them so popular on YouTube?

“Everybody just loves cats,” said Braden. “I just think it has a particular niche and a particular power, because it harnesses such a lot of what people like online. It’s funny, but it also has the ‘aw that’s cute’ thing.”

“I almost see it as a reaction culturally against all the stuff that people have been feeding you for years, now that the power is in the masses’ hands,” added Lashes. “You don’t have to listen to Warner Brothers any more. ‘I’m into this cat, so suck it!’. It’s almost like sticking it to The Man. ‘I’m going to buy a cat shirt…’”

Stulen warned that what doesn’t work are videos that are too self-consciously trying to go viral, before asking his fellow panellists what the future holds for this particular category of online content.

Suriel predicted evolution as more television brands get involved. “Will there be a cat video channel someday? I can definitely see that happening,” she said. “It’s just going to keep moving.”

“What’s been incredible is the people. Really incredible people to work with, and that’s what’s behind anything good like this: people whose intentions are genuine,” added Stulen. “The future is bright as long as those things are in place.”

Meanwhile, Lashes warned doubters that cat videos are unlikely to fall out of fashion in the near future. “With cat videos or Justin Bieber records or a movie that comes out next week, there’s always that question: ‘is this going to be cool tomorrow, is this going to be the hot thing next week?’” he said.

“Sometimes you keep asking these questions and realise hang on, that was 10 yars ago we started asking that question. As long as you keep it legit and keep fans happy, that can go on forever.”

It was Lashes who had provided the shock of the session earlier on, though, drawing an audible gasp from some sections of the audience when revealing his own status as a pet owner. “I have a dog, actually.”

Stuart Dredge is a freelance journalist and editor specialising in mobile apps and mobile content.

http://www.alternet.org/economy/economy-cat-videos?akid=11625.265072.y-d_D2&rd=1&src=newsletter972927&t=12&paging=off&current_page=1#bookmark

How iPad and Google Glass makers are secretly scamming America

More evil than genius? 

 

We already knew Google and Facebook were resourceful. But their new scheme to rip off the U.S. Treasury is chilling

 

 

More evil than genius? How iPad and Google Glass makers are secretly scamming America
Sergey Brin, Mark Zuckerberg (Credit: AP/Seth Wenig/Reuters/Stephen Lam/Salon)

 

To really understand the extent of Google and Apple’s innovative zeal, you may want to look past their groundbreaking products – and more at their tax avoidance strategies. In a new scheme that defies belief, some of the nation’s top tech giants are managing to evade taxation on money by parking it overseas – and then somehow taking government payments on it.

Though the rest of the business sector had a head start, tech firms have begun to lobby Washington with more persistence over the past few years; the top 10 spent more than $61 million in 2013. The more hopeful among us might believe this shift could possibly produce more beneficial results for the public. (After all, Google’s motto is “don’t be evil,” right?)

But while it’s true that, in certain discrete areas, tech lobbying has yielded positive results — like when companies aided grass-roots efforts to stop Internet censorship legislation sought by Hollywood — in the vast majority of cases, Silicon Valley wants what the rest of our multinational conglomerates want: low taxes and cheap labor. And they’ve been at the forefront of efforts to ensure that.

Take a look at the recent Bloomberg report on companies stockpiling cash in offshore tax havens to avoid higher U.S. rates, for example. (Though the new FiveThirtyEight.com downplayed the significance of this buildup, in actuality it has increased at a fairly steady 10-15 percent rate since the start of the Great Recession.) The tech sector has led the way on this, moving their patents and other intellectual property to low-tax countries to give the appearance that their profits have been earned offshore.



According to Securities and Exchange Commission filings, Apple, Microsoft and IBM accelerated their overseas profit hoarding in 2013 more than their counterparts, adding $37.5 billion to the pile. Over the past three years, Microsoft’s cash stash has more than doubled, and Apple’s has quadrupled. In all, seven tech companies – the three mentioned above, along with Cisco Systems, Oracle, Google and Hewlett-Packard – have $341.3 billion sitting in offshore accounts. At current tax rates, the companies would have to pay $119.45 billion of that to the IRS if they repatriated it. Much of this money is held in segregated U.S. bank accounts, solely for the purpose of avoiding taxes by nominally keeping it offshore.

Sure enough, tech firms are among the companies lobbying for a repatriation tax holiday, which would allow them to return that money home at ultra-low rates. The LIFT Coalition (short for Let’s Invest for Tomorrow), run by former Obama administration communications director Anita Dunn, advocates for the repatriation holiday, and includes Intel, Cisco, Hewlett-Packard, the Semiconductor Industry Association, and “TechNet,” a separate lobbying coalition that counts as its members Google and Facebook.

These lobbying coalitions claim that repatriating the money will allow companies to invest and spur economic recovery, although the last repatriation tax holiday, in 2004, did nothing of the sort. The top 15 companies that made use of that holiday to move money home actually cut 20,000 jobs in the aftermath, while increasing their executive compensation and stock buybacks, according to a report from the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (Hewlett-Packard and IBM were among the 15 companies benefiting the most). Sadly, both the recent Republican tax reform proposal and the Obama administration’s budget call for a repatriation tax holiday along the lines of the lobbying coalition’s wishes, so their efforts could bear fruit.

But it’s actually worse than all this. A report from the Bureau on Investigative Journalism shows that these tech firms are actually taking government payments on the money they have parked overseas to avoid taxation. That’s because that money isn’t sitting under a mattress somewhere in Bermuda or the Cayman Islands; it’s invested, and the No. 1 investment these firms use is the ultra-safe, ultra-liquid instrument of U.S. government debt.

SEC filings show that Apple, Microsoft, Google and Cisco have $163 billion invested in various forms of interest-bearing U.S. debt. If they were a country (Silicon Valleyistan), that would be the 14th-largest holding of our debt in the world, more than the sovereign wealth funds of Singapore and Norway. Despite the investments in things like Treasury notes and agency debt, the money is still considered offshore, avoiding taxation even as it collects interest from the U.S. government. The annual interest payout to just these four firms is $326 million.

Silicon Valley has mobilized to ensure this gravy train continues into perpetuity. Though the G-20 group of countries has discussed a unified effort to close international tax loopholes, a lobbying coalition made up of tech firms called the Digital Economy Group has fought them almost single-handedly. In a letter to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, the DEG argued that any tax avoidance is “purely coincidental,” adding that “enterprises that employ digital communications models do not organize their business operations differently as a legal or tax matter.” This is completely absurd, given the facts, and represents a hidden effort to subvert tax reform while publicly endorsing the concept.

The fight for low taxes almost looks good compared to Silicon Valley’s securing of cheap labor, the nasty details of which have spilled out in a federal lawsuit. Google, Apple, Intel, Adobe and several other tech firms were charged with colluding to artificially keep down labor costs among engineers and other workers. Basically, companies made illicit agreements not to poach each other’s employees, which eliminates labor competition and suppresses wages. This violates federal anti-trust laws, the workers alleged. Emails between the likes of Google’s Eric Schmidt and the late Apple CEO Steve Jobs provided the evidence for the allegations. The companies even shared salary data for their employees to ensure that nobody overpaid. Recruiters who called into other Silicon Valley firms searching for talent were summarily fired.

Some tech giants, like Intuit, settled with workers for an undisclosed sum, but Google and Apple tried to get the class action suit thrown out of court. A district court judge and the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed that attempt, however, letting 60,000 workers continue to pursue the case. The trial is slated for this May.

None of this is particularly surprising. Tech firms are in the business of making money, regardless of the shiny products and Web apps and social media diversions that supply their revenue stream. They cut all the corners that the rest of corporate America cuts to maximize their profits, skirting the edges of the law and sometimes going over it. You may not want to believe that the companies that give you the iPad and help you in your search for cat videos operate like a two-bit hustler, stealing the wages of employees and setting up dummy tax shelters. But that’s the sad reality.

 

David Dayen is a contributing writer for Salon. Follow him on Twitter at @ddayen.

http://www.salon.com/2014/03/19/more_evil_than_genius_how_ipad_and_google_glass_makers_are_secretly_scamming_america/?source=newsletter

Wealthy San Francisco is where elderly homeless women sit at bus stops all day waiting for shelter beds.

 


In the Nation’s Boomtown, Homeless People

are More Visible and Invisible Than Ever


The sanctuary at Saint Boniface Church looks like a Red Cross center after an earthquake. People are sleeping two to a pew, spread out on blankets on the ceramic floor in the back of the church, or slumped, chins on their chests, on chairs by the old confessionals.

It’s noon, but that’s like midnight in the upside-down world of the people who wait awake all night in alleys, under bridges, in doorways and, more and more, on the sidewalks, for somewhere they can sleep in peace. At 6am, when Saint Boniface opens its massive oak doors, a few dozen people are already waiting to get inside. They keep straggling in all morning, claiming their spot on hard benches designed to keep people awake. Some take a break late morning and get on the block-long lunch line across the street at the St. Anthony Foundation, which feeds 2,600 people a day. Others sleep the sleep of the dead until 3pm, when everyone has to leave to survive another day and night on the streets.

Yes, this is San Francisco, booming techtropolis of new brew pubs, fusion cuisines and $2,000-a-month studio apartments. It’s also a city where elderly homeless women sit at bus stops all day waiting for shelter beds; where an encampment of 10 homeless men and women kicked out of a patch of dirt next to an overpass now live under that overpass; and where pup tents are popping up on leafy, tree-lined streets.

The city has been getting lots of attention since the Brookings Institution announced last month that San Francisco is the nation’s capital of growing income inequality, with more haves next to more have-nots than anywhere else in the country, even New York. The culture war in neighborhoods like the Mission District, the heart of the heart of the high-tech bubble, has gotten fierce. Resentment over the big white buses that pick up and drop off workers from Apple, Google, Facebook and other Silicon Valley companies to the Mission, is so pervasive, it’s almost a cliche. Reporters hoping to document the divide keep dropping by, from all over. The other day, a Japanese news crew and a French freelance videographer jostled for position at a busy corner on Mission Street. Both wanted to film workers getting off a Google bus and an elderly couple peddling Mexican pastries on the corner at the same time. Haves, have-nots, bingo.

Lost in all the anguished discussions over the artists, working-class families and senior citizens getting forced out by landlords raising rents or startup millionaires buying buildings and evicting tenants is this glaring reality: thousands of people are living on the streets of San Francisco, the most in a decade.

Officially, the most current numbers of homeless people in San Francisco are between 6,436 and 7,350. (The city did two homeless counts, one of homeless adults, for the first figure, and a separate one, of homeless youth, which counted 914 teens and young adults on their own. City officials say some in the first count may have been counted in the second.) About half of the homeless people counted were in shelters, hospitals and jails.

Advocates for the homeless say the numbers may be much higher than the official count, since so many homeless people find temporary quarters, on friends’ couches, in cheap hotels for a night or week, or doubled up with relatives. No matter the numbers, to anyone who has lived in the city for even five years, it is obvious that there are more people walking the streets carrying all they own than there used to be. People who are homeless say so, too. In talks with about a dozen people living in an encampment under a freeway ramp in the Mission, everyone said they are running into more people at the recycling center, sleeping in spots they thought no one else knew about and vying for the same odd jobs—like sweeping a gas station—for food money.

“It’s like more competition for everything,”  a 43-year-old man who said his name was Jose—no last name, please—complained the other day. He was sweeping up trash by his camp, as he said he had promised a Department of Public Works employee.

Of course, the city is not alone. New York and Los Angeles have an exploding homeless population, and other large cities experiencing housing booms are in the same boat. But homelessness has been San Francisco’s signature issue for 20 years at least. It has bedeviled mayors and caused the downfall of more than one. Its absence from the current gentrification debate is so striking that one city supervisor, Mark Farrell, publicly asked why last month. He also scheduled several hearings to discuss why homelessness remains intractable despite 50 different homeless programs costing $165 million a year. The first hearing, nearly three hours long, came and went, unnoticed by the public.

Tourists complain about homeless people all the time, as they have for years. Panhandlers, homeless or not, have long made the city’s tourist hot-spots their hot-spots. The encampments of homeless people in the city’s so-called mid-Market Street area, where companies like Twitter have set up headquarters in exchange for tax breaks and a commitment to invest in the community, have gotten City Hall’s attention. Just not in the way advocates for the homeless would like.

San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee has been ordering the police department to increase patrols to crack down on drug-dealing and other illegal activities, including loitering, among people congregating on mid-Market. That has shifted more people to nearby neighborhoods, where merchants are complaining about people camped out on their stoops or storefronts. The San Francisco Public Library, which has been touted as a national model for how to humanely address the many homeless patrons in libraries, is also suffering repercussions from the crackdown. When the police started rousting people on Market Street, some moved over to the library, which is right nearby. After a rash of violent and bizarre incidents—a man smashing a glass table with a hammer, for one—the mayor ordered stepped-up security at the library and increased penalties for those who violate the library’s code of conduct, which includes a ban on offensive body odor.

Other recent developments in the city have increased street camping. In November, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted to close city parks overnight, where dozens of homeless people used to sleep. In December, a drop-in center in the Haight-Ashbury that provided showers, food, a place to sleep and other services for homeless youth lost its lease. Some of its clients, who used to sleep there or in Golden Gate Park, have ended up congregating at a Safeway parking lot. The supermarket recently installed sharp pointed iron railings around its decorative concrete planters to prevent people from sitting on them.

St. Boniface, which first opened its doors for homeless people to sleep 10 years ago, is hosting more people than ever before—more than 100 each day—in part because the city swept a large encampment out of a regional commuter terminal, the Transbay Terminal, in order to renovate it.

All this adds up to a lot of shuffling of the most downtrodden people in the city from here to there.

Bevan Dufty, who directs City Hall’s homeless programs, called the situation “frustrating.” “It costs more to mitigate the effects of homelessness,” he said, “than it does to house people.”

But there are bright spots in the city’s homeless picture, Dufty added. Homelessness among veterans is down 30 percent in two years, thanks in part to federal funding for housing vouchers. Dufty said the city has also just opened new housing for 40 young adults and is set to open two more facilities for young adults this year.

If some of the city’s deep-pocketed residents take notice, perhaps some real progress on homelessness could be made. As Dufty said, “Twitter has made a lot of millionaires.”

Evelyn Nieves is a senior contributing writer and editor at AlterNet, living in San Francisco.

She has been a reporter for both the New York Times and the Washington Post.

http://www.alternet.org/hard-times-usa/how-booming-techtropolis-sf-has-created-huge-homeless-problem?akid=11601.265072.wD_nRl&rd=1&src=newsletter970817&t=5&paging=off&current_page=1#bookmark