The Tech One Percent and the Art of Perception
Posted at 11:17h, 24 May 2016 in List Archive by Bonnie Halper No Comments 135 Likes Share

We’ve been watching the shenanigans that have been going on in Silicon Valley for quite some time now, and it gave us pause to wonder what it is that, no matter from whence founders might have originally hailed, they move to Silicon Valley, make their incredible fortune or two or more, then fall into some sort of moral torpor/instantly bifurcated mindset that we like to call hypocrisy, which somehow seems to go unchecked or unnoticed, for the most part. A few examples:

PAYPAL, APPLE lecture North Carolina — but do business in countries far more hostile to gays. “PayPal drew a line in the sand when North Carolina enacted a law prohibiting people from using the restrooms of the opposite sex, but critics say that line got washed away on the shores of Malaysia, a nation that consistently ranks among the least LGBT-friendly in the world…The company canceled its plan to build a global operations center in Charlotte after the passage of HB2, which CEO Daniel Schulman called discrimination against the transgendered. He noted that the move would cost North Carolina 400 well-paying jobs… Malaysia’s Penal Code 187 — which punishes homosexual conduct with whippings and up to 20 years in prison — did not stop PayPal from opening in 2011 a global operations center there…PayPal does business in 25 countries where homosexual behavior is illegal, including 5 countries where the penalty is death.” Not that anti-gay policies stopped “Apple from opening stores in Saudi Arabia, where gay people are regularly executed in public and cross-dressing is also a criminal offense.”

In fact, Tim Cook just made history by being the first openly gay CEO to be hosted by Prime Minister Modi in openly homophobic India. Homosexuality in that country is an offence punishable by up to life imprisonment. Apple hopes to bring its manufacturing to India, despite the fact that “the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has been vociferous in its disapproval of homosexuality. “We support Section 377 (the law) because we believe that homosexuality is (an) unnatural act that cannot be supported,” India’s current home minister and former president of the BJP, Rajnath Singh, said in 2013... Last year, according to a report by the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, and Biz Divas, a diversity and inclusion consulting firm, as many as 98% of companies surveyed said that they have not taken any concrete steps to make their workplace lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT)-friendly—or hire people from the community.”

Next: Elon Musk and the carbon tax. According to this piece in The Federalist, “Elon Musk, the PayPal co-founder who used his fortune to start a trio of “visionary” companies—Tesla, Solar City, and SpaceX—recently went beyond pitching the supposed virtues of his own technology and called for a broader social revolt aimed at taking down his rivals. Complaining that a “carbon tax” intended to fight global warming was being blocked by the machinations of the industrial-industrial complex, he declared “we need to appeal to the people and educate them to sort of revolt against this and to fight the propaganda of the fossil fuel industry.” But notice his big rationale for vilifying fossil fuels: “The fundamental issue with fossil fuels is that every use comes with a subsidy. Every gasoline car on the road has a subsidy, and the right way to address that is with a carbon tax.”

“That’s pretty rich for a guy whose own businesses have been supported by $4.9 billion in government subsidies. That’s according to a tally by the Los Angeles Times. It’s an extraordinary list of government loans and tax breaks, along with Musk’s personal role in demanding and negotiating them. It includes this real gem:

[Tesla] has also collected more than $517 million from competing automakers by selling environmental credits. In a regulatory system pioneered by California and adopted by nine other states, automakers must buy the credits if they fail to sell enough zero-emissions cars to meet mandates.” All of this for what’s basically a status symbol/conscience-easer for the super rich.

Speaking of taxes and one-way streets, Silicon Valley has made an art form of tax evasion (Cupertino’s mayor urges Apple to pay more tax: ‘Where’s the fairness?’). “Apple’s local efforts to avoid paying higher taxes are part of a larger pattern for the $500bn company, which has long been a pioneer in corporate tax avoidance,” reads the piece. “Apple pays a 2.3% effective tax rate on its $181bn in cash held offshore, according to Citizens for Tax Justice, a not-for-profit research group focusing on tax policy. Through a series of well-documented offshore manipulations with saucy-sounding names such as the Double Irish with a Dutch Sandwich, the industry giants shield themselves off from the theoretically 35% federal corporate tax rate. Citizens for Tax Justice estimates that Apple would owe $59.2bn in US taxes if the money weren’t funneled into offshore shell accounts…”They’re all just as good at engineering their own tax rates as they are at engineering new technology,” said Ron Eckstein from advocacy group Americans for Tax Fairness.

Meanwhile, these companies and Silicon Valley leaders in general are held in esteem for the so-called social good that they do and again, speaking of Tesla, the company was recently accused of paying foreign workers $5 an hour to expand the factory – and had them laboring under unsafe working conditions. “The cutting-edge car maker was regarded as the role model for bringing manufacturing jobs back to California. It was the prototype feel-good, green industry that paid its skilled workers a premium for their ultra-productive work. But not the workers imported to build the expansion of the state-of-the-art plant. They were hired through a contractor and paid the wages they would make in their own impoverished countries, $5 an hour in some cases.”

As with many things in Silicon Valley companies, not a good idea to look under the hood.

Ditto Apple: Apple iPhone workers lived eight to a room, showered in groups and paid for privilege…in case you were wondering how it came to be that A third of cash is held by 5 U.S. companies. And why we personally tend to refer to them as the tech uberlords.

To follow up from last week’s newsletter on Facebook’s unabashedly liberal bias and the associated dangers, Zuckerberg et al did meet with so-called conservative thought leaders, and there’s this: Facebook’s Big Meeting With Conservatives Is A Textbook Con Job. “As every single statement from Facebook makes clear, the company refuses to admit it did anything wrong. So what is the point of this silly meeting in California? It can’t be to fix the problem of conservatives being blacklisted, because Facebook won’t even acknowledge that the problem even exists… Facebook cares about making a PR headache go away. Facebook cares about GOP senators halting their investigation into the company…Facebook wants the headlines to cease.”

Yet not a week later, Facebook Censor(ed) Conservative Lauren Southern for Mentioning Censorship.

And this just in: Facebook admits rogue employees may have shown bias against conservatives. Social media giant denies ‘systematic’ discrimination Facebook says an investigation of its trending topics finds “no evidence of systematic political bias”. So, how do you fix a problem whose existence you deny?

In fact,  The United States ambassador to the UN says your Facebook feed is keeping you from making the world better. In her commencement speech at Yale, UN ambassador Samantha Power “argues that by allowing us to tailor our information intake to our existing tastes and opinions, social media stymies our ability to understand others.” Although we doubt that Zuck was listening or even cares. Agenda uber alles.

It’s an ethics system gone amok, even as its founders are held in esteem for the pockets of so-called good they do. And if Silicon Valley is producing such brilliant tech, then why is it that, despite all of the incredible amounts of money thrown at founders during this last tech cycle and the unbelievable valuations they’ve managed to get, to defer to Peter Thiel, we were promised flying cars and all we got was 140 characters – and basically a taxi app and a hospitality app. What to speak of the fact that Twitter is perpetually in trouble. E-commerce, Twitter.  Is it rocket science to figure that one out?

“Jack Dorsey, Twitter founder and CEO’s latest move? The social network plans to stop counting photos and links in the 140-character link for tweets within “the next couple of weeks,” according to a new report from Bloomberg. “The move will free up more space for text, long-overdue. But the change — while welcome — does little to fix Twitter’s underlying issues.” Now, were they to use this change to create #Hashtag marketplaces which would allow Twitter to sell stuff and allow their users to offer links to merchandise, merchants, et al, well, engagement and traction might finally increase, and they might just find that they not only have a company: that they have a business as well.

This piece is not about lifestyles or life choices, or whatever your beliefs, social or political, may be. We always support your right to your choices. This is about hypocracy, plain and simple, and how a few convenient ones help make certain of the 1% rise even higher to the top.  We know we didn’t get into the gender inequality issue here, nor do we have solutions to offer in general. This is a warning shot, coming at a time when the tech uberlords are becoming richer and even more powerful. Not that we expect the industry to so-called heal itself any time soon. After all and speaking of gender, you know the old saying about relationships and from where we sit at this moment in time, so it goes with the tech behemoths: women believe that men will change, and they don’t. Men believe women will never change, and they do. Time to change many things, and above all, perceptions, as we move onward and forward.