Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for July 9th, 2017

Clara Rockmore’s beautiful rendition of Saint-Saëns’ The Swan on the thermin

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More here: another performance, and who she was.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 July 2017 at 8:50 pm

Posted in Music, Technology, Video

The Book That Predicted Trump’s Rise Offers the Left a Roadmap for Defeating Him

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Conor Friedersdorf writes in the Atlantic:

Twenty years ago, in a series of lectures on the history of American civilization, the philosopher Richard Rorty offered a prediction. His words languished in relative obscurity until the unexpected rise of Donald Trump made them seem prescient.Labor unions and unskilled workers will sooner or later realize that “their government is not even trying to prevent wages from sinking or to prevent jobs from being exported,” he posited. And they will further realize that “suburban white-collar workers, themselves desperately afraid of being downsized, are not going to let themselves be taxed to provide social benefits for anyone else.” At that point, “something will crack,”  he warned. “The nonsuburban electorate will decide that the system has failed and start looking for a strongman to vote for––someone willing to assure them that, once he is elected, the smug bureaucrats, tricky lawyers, overpaid bond salesmen, and postmodernist professors will no longer be calling the shots.”

That passage, considered from the vantage of November 9, 2016, caused a spike of interest in Achieving Our Country, the compilation of Rorty’s lectures. The full book contains criticism for the political left as earnestly constructive and thoughtfully formulated as any I have encountered in my recent roundups––and I say that despite disagreeing with Rorty’s  uncharitable assessments of the American right, among other things.

His book is worth revisiting as the Democratic Party smarts from losses in recent special elections and considers how it might win back the House in the 2018 midterms.

What is wrong with its current incarnation?

Rorty argued that an ascendant strain of postmodern Leftism with its roots in the academy has tended “to give cultural politics preference over real politics, and to mock the very idea that democratic institutions might once again be made to serve social justice.”

This Left is more likely to participate in a public shaming than to lobby for a new law; it is more likely to mobilize to occupy a park or shut down a freeway than to register voters. It “exaggerates the importance of philosophy for politics, and wastes its energy on sophisticated theoretical analyses of the significance of current events.” Its adherents “have permitted cultural politics to supplant real politics, and have collaborated with the Right in making cultural issues central to the public debate.”

Yet framing the public debate in that manner plays to the strengths of the political Right.

Rorty sympathizes with the reasons that an ascendant Leftist faction lost faith in American institutions. He is as horrified as they are by the historic treatment of indigenous people and African Americans, and by America’s behavior in the Vietnam War.

But like John Dewey, he rejects self-loathing as “a luxury which agents––either individuals or nations––cannot afford,” and finds other aspects of American history and national character to celebrate. Today’s Left would more effectively advance social justice if its adherents possessed a historical memory that extended farther back than the 1960s, he argued, to a movement more than a century old “that has served human liberty well.” It would help, for example, “if students became as familiar with the Pullman Strike, the Great Coalfield War, and the passage of the Wagner Act as with the march from Selma, Berkeley free-speech demonstrations, and Stonewall.”

If more Leftists saw themselves as part of that history, with all its achievements, they might continue to lament that “America is not a morally pure country,” but might better understand that “no country ever has been or ever will be,” and that no country will ever have “a morally pure, homogeneous Left” to bring about social justice.

He urges the Left to be more realist at length:

In democratic countries you get things done by compromising your principles in order to form alliances with groups about whom you have grave doubts. The Left in America has made a lot of progress by doing just that. The closest the Left ever came to taking over the government was in 1912, when a Whitman enthusiast, Eugene Debs, ran for president and got almost a million votes. These votes were cast by, as Daniel Bell puts it, “as unstable a compound as was ever mixed in the modern history of political chemistry.” This compound mingled rage at low wages and miserable working conditions with, as Bell says, “the puritan conscience of millionaire socialists, the boyish romanticism of a Jack London, the pale Christian piety of a George Herron … the reckless braggadocio of a ‘Wild Bill’ Haywood … the tepid social-work impulse of do-gooders, inarticulate and amorphous desire to ‘belong’ of the immigrant workers, the iconoclastic idol-breaking of the literary radicals … and more.”

Those dispossessed farmers were often racist, nativist, and sadistic. The millionaire socialists, ruthless robber barons though they were, nevertheless set up the foundations which sponsored the research which helped get leftist legislation passed. We need to get rid of the Marxist idea that only bottom-up initiatives, conducted by workers and peasants who have somehow been so freed from resentment as to show no trace of prejudice, can achieve our country. The history of leftist politics in America is a story of how top-down initiatives and bottom-up initiatives have interlocked.

Rorty wasn’t dismissing bigotry as unimportant. He was quick to praise the post-’60s Left for being attentive to racial injustice and recognizing that sadism against minority groups would have persisted even apart from economic inequality. Still, he criticizes the identity politics of the left for developing a politics “more about stigma than about money, more about deep and hidden psychosexual motivations than about shallow and evident greed,” because many of the dispossessed are thereby ignored.

Surveying academia, for example, he observes that “nobody is setting up a program in unemployed studies, homeless studies, or trailer-park studies, because the unemployed, the homeless, and residents of trailer parks are not the ‘other’ in the relative sense. To be other in this sense you must bear an ineradicable stigma, one which makes you a victim of socially accepted sadism rather than merely of economic selfishness.”

For Rorty, a Left that neglects victims of economic selfishness will not only fail; its neglect of class will trigger a terrible backlash that ultimately ill-serve the very groups that Leftist identity politics are intended to help.

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 July 2017 at 4:44 pm

How climate scepticism turned into something more dangerous

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David Runciman writes in the Guardian:

Last month Donald Trump announced his intention to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate accord. For his supporters, it provided evidence, at last, that the president is a man of his word. He may not have kept many campaign promises, but he kept this one. For his numerous critics it is just another sign of how little Trump cares about evidence of any kind. His decision to junk the Paris accord confirms Trump as the poster politician for the “post-truth” age.

But this is not just about Trump. The motley array of candidates who ran for the Republican presidential nomination was divided on many things, but not on climate change. None of them was willing to take the issue seriously. In a bitterly contentious election, it was a rare instance of unanimity. The consensus that climate is a non-subject was shared by all the candidates who appeared in the first major Republican debate in August 2015 – Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Chris Christie, John Kasich, Mike Huckabee and Trump. Republican voters were offered 10 shades of denialism.

As Huckabee quipped in January 2015, any talk of global warming was a distraction from the real dangers the country faced: “A beheading is a far greater threat to an American than a sunburn.” Trump’s remarks on climate may have more been erratic (“I want to use hairspray!” he said at one point, confusing global warming with the hole in the ozone layer) but their consistent theme was that manmade climate change is a “hoax”, perpetrated by the enemies of the US, who may or may not include China.

Climate science has become a red rag to the political right. The scientific consensus is clear: more than 95% of climate researchers agree that human activity is causing global warming, and that without action to combat it we are on a path to dangerous temperature rises from pre-industrial levels. But the mere existence of this consensus gets taken by its political opponents as a priorievidence of a stitch-up. Why else would scientists and left-leaning politicians be agreeing with each other all the time if they weren’t scratching each others’ backs? Knowledge is easily turned into “elite” knowledge, which is tantamount to privileged snobs telling ordinary people what to think. Trump’s stance reflects the mutual intolerance that now exists between those promoting the scientific consensus and those for whom the consensus is just another political racket. Trump didn’t create this division. He is simply exploiting it.

It is tempting for anyone on the scientific side of the divide to want to apportion all the blame to the “alt-facts” crowd, who see elite conspiracies everywhere. But there is more going on here than dumb politics versus smart science. The facts are not just the innocent victims of politics. The facts have long been put in the service of politics, which is what fuels the suspicions of those who wish to deny them. The politicisation can cut both ways.

The politics of climate change poses a stark dilemma for anyone wanting to push back against the purveyors of post-truth. Should they bide their time and trust that the facts will win out in the end? Or do they use the evidence as weapons in the political fight, in which case they risk confirming the suspicion that they have gone beyond the facts? It is not just climate scientists who find themselves in this bind. Economists making the case against Brexit found that the more they insisted on agreement inside the profession about the dangers, the more it was viewed with suspicion from the outside by people who regarded it as a political con.

Post-truth politics also poses a problem for scepticism. A healthy democracy needs to leave plenty of room for doubt. There are lots of good reasons to be doubtful about what the reality of climate change will entail: though there is scientific agreement about the fact of global warming and its source in human activity, the ultimate risks are very uncertain and so are the long-term consequences. There is plenty of scope for disagreement about the most effective next steps. The existence of a very strong scientific consensus does not mean there should be a consensus about the correct political response. But the fact of the scientific consensus has produced an equal and opposite reaction that squeezes the room for reasonable doubt. The certainty among the scientists has engendered the most intolerant kind of scepticism among the doubters.

Not all climate sceptics are part of the “alt-right”. But everyone in the alt-right is now a climate sceptic. That’s what makes the politics so toxic. It means that climate scepticism is being driven out by climate cynicism. A sceptic questions the evidence for a given claim and asks whether it is believable. A cynic questions the motives of the people who deploy the evidence, regardless of whether it is believable or not. Any attempt to defend the facts gets presented as evidence that the facts simply suit the interests of the people peddling them.

Climate change is the defining political issue of our times and not simply because of the risks we run if we get it wrong. An inadequate response – if we do too little, too late – could inflict untold damage on the habitable environment. But even before that day comes, the contest over the truth about climate change is doing serious damage to our democracy.

The fight over climate reveals how easily politics can get in the way of the facts, and how hard it can be to escape once cynicism exerts its grip. In many ways, climate science is particularly vulnerable to political distortion. But the issue of climate change also shows that it is a false comfort for liberal elites to think that the facts will win in the end. If they do, it won’t be because we woke up to the science. It will be because we woke up to the politics.

Climate science has not always been so political. The idea that manmade carbon emissions are contributing to significant changes in the climate first came to public notice in the 1960s and 1970s. But attention to the issue was not primarily driven by politics, despite an attempt by Richard Nixon when president to push for more research into the issue. Most of the early consciousness-raising came from journalists.

In 1975, Newsweek made a splash with the claim that the science of climate change was pointing to the imminent threat of global cooling. This warning gained notoriety but little political traction, at a time when the dangers of nuclear war and the economic consequences of the oil crisis crowded out other forms of apocalypse. The political consequences had to wait decades to be felt. Many of the recent Republican presidential candidates cited over-the-top scare stories about global cooling from their childhood as a reason to discount scare stories about global warming today.

What politicised the idea of climate change was its adoption as a cause by Democratic politicians in the 1980s, above all by Al Gore. By the start of that decade, evidence of global cooling had faded and a scientific consensus was starting to form around the idea that the climate was warming up. Gore belonged to a group known as the “Atari Democrats”, for their wonkish attachment to science and technology. These politicians saw climate as a useful issue, as well as an urgent one. It was a way of appealing to moderate Republican voters, because the concerns it raised cut across party lines. In the words of another member of the group, Chuck Schumer, then a Brooklyn congressman, now Senate minority leader: “If you’re a Democrat, especially in a middle-class district or on the west coast, [climate] is a great issue … It is an issue with no downside.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 July 2017 at 4:17 pm

How power profits from disaster

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Naomi Klein reports in the Guardian:

There have been times in my reporting from disaster zones when I have had the unsettling feeling that I was seeing not just a crisis in the here and now, but getting a glimpse of the future – a preview of where the road we are all on is headed, unless we somehow grab the wheel and swerve. When I listen to Donald Trump speak, with his obvious relish in creating an atmosphere of chaos and destabilisation, I often think: I’ve seen this before, in those strange moments when portals seemed to open up into our collective future.

One of those moments arrived in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, as I watched hordes of private military contractors descend on the flooded city to find ways to profit from the disaster, even as thousands of the city’s residents, abandoned by their government, were treated like dangerous criminals just for trying to survive.

I started to notice the same tactics in disaster zones around the world. I used the term “shock doctrine” to describe the brutal tactic of using the public’s disorientation following a collective shock – wars, coups, terrorist attacks, market crashes or natural disasters – to push through radical pro-corporate measures, often called “shock therapy”. Though Trump breaks the mould in some ways, his shock tactics do follow a script, and one that is familiar from other countries that have had rapid changes imposed under the cover of crisis.

This strategy has been a silent partner to the imposition of neoliberalism for more than 40 years. Shock tactics follow a clear pattern: wait for a crisis (or even, in some instances, as in Chile or Russia, help foment one), declare a moment of what is sometimes called “extraordinary politics”, suspend some or all democratic norms – and then ram the corporate wishlist through as quickly as possible. The research showed that virtually any tumultuous situation, if framed with sufficient hysteria by political leaders, could serve this softening-up function. It could be an event as radical as a military coup, but the economic shock of a market or budget crisis would also do the trick. Amid hyperinflation or a banking collapse, for instance, the country’s governing elites were frequently able to sell a panicked population on the necessity for attacks on social protections, or enormous bailouts to prop up the financial private sector – because the alternative, they claimed, was outright economic apocalypse.

The Republicans under Donald Trump are already seizing the atmosphere of constant crisis that surrounds this presidency to push through as many unpopular, pro-corporate policies. And we know they would move much further and faster given an even bigger external shock. We know this because senior members of Trump’s team have been at the heart of some of the most egregious examples of the shock doctrine in recent memory.

Rex Tillerson, the US secretary of state, has built his career in large part around taking advantage of the profitability of war and instability. ExxonMobil profited more than any oil major from the increase in the price of oil that was the result of the 2003 invasion of Iraq. It also directly exploited the Iraq war to defy US state department advice and make an exploration deal in Iraqi Kurdistan, a move that, because it sidelined Iraq’s central government, could well have sparked a full-blown civil war, and certainly did contribute to internal conflict.

As CEO of ExxonMobil, Tillerson profited from disaster in other ways as well. As an executive at the fossil fuel giant, he spent his career working for a company that, despite its own scientists’ research into the reality of human-caused climate change, decided to fund and spread misinformation and junk climate science. All the while, according to an LA Times investigation, ExxonMobil (both before and after Exxon and Mobil merged) worked diligently to figure out how to further profit from and protect itself against the very crisis on which it was casting doubt. It did so by exploring drilling in the Arctic (which was melting, thanks to climate change), redesigning a natural gas pipeline in the North Sea to accommodate rising sea levels and supercharged storms, and doing the same for a new rig off the coast of Nova Scotia.

At a public event in 2012, Tillerson acknowledged that climate change was happening – but what he said next was revealing: “as a species”, humans have always adapted. “So we will adapt to this. Changes to weather patterns that move crop production areas around – we’ll adapt to that.”

He’s quite right: humans do adapt when their land ceases to produce food. The way humans adapt is by moving. They leave their homes and look for places to live where they can feed themselves and their families. But, as Tillerson well knows, we do not live at a time when countries gladly open their borders to hungry and desperate people. In fact, he now works for a president who has painted refugees from Syria – a country where drought was an accelerant of the tensions that led to civil war – as Trojan horses for terrorism. A president who introduced a travel ban that has gone a long way towards barring Syrian migrants from entering the United States.

A president who has said about Syrian children seeking asylum, “I can look in their faces and say: ‘You can’t come.’” A president who has not budged from that position even after he ordered missile strikes on Syria, supposedly moved by the horrifying impacts of a chemical weapon attack on Syrian children and “beautiful babies”. (But not moved enough to welcome them and their parents.) A president who has announced plans to turn the tracking, surveillance, incarceration and deportation of immigrants into a defining feature of his administration.

Waiting in the wings, biding their time, are plenty of other members of the Trump team who have deep skills in profiting from all of that.

Between election day and the end of Trump’s first month in office, the stocks of the two largest private prison companies in the US, CoreCivic (formerly the Corrections Corporation of America) and the Geo Group, doubled, soaring by 140% and 98%, respectively. And why not? Just as Exxon learned to profit from climate change, these companies are part of the sprawling industry of private prisons, private security and private surveillance that sees wars and migration – both very often linked to climate stresses – as exciting and expanding market opportunities. In the US, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (Ice) incarcerates up to 34,000 immigrants thought to be in the country illegally on any given day, and 73% of them are held in private prisons. Little wonder, then, that these companies’ stocks soared on Trump’s election. And soon they had even more reasons to celebrate: one of the first things Trump’s new attorney general, Jeff Sessions, did was rescind the Obama administration’s decision to move away from for-profit jails for the general prison population.

Trump appointed as deputy defence secretary Patrick Shanahan, a top executive at Boeing who, at one point, was responsible for selling costly hardware to the US military, including Apache and Chinook helicopters. He also oversaw Boeing’s ballistic missile defence programme – a part of the operation that stands to profit enormously if international tensions continue to escalate under Trump.

And this is part of a much larger trend. As Lee Fang reported in the Intercept in March 2017, “President Donald Trump has weaponised the revolving door by appointing defence contractors and lobbyists to key government positions as he seeks to rapidly expand the military budget and homeland security programmes … At least 15 officials with financial ties to defence contractors have been either nominated or appointed so far.”

The revolving door is nothing new, of course. Retired military brass reliably take up jobs and contracts with weapons companies. What’s new is the number of generals with lucrative ties to military contractors whom Trump has appointed to cabinet posts with the power to allocate funds – including those stemming from his plan to increase spending on the military, the Pentagon and the Department of Homeland Security by more than $80bn in just one year. . .

Continue reading.

Grim times ahead, I think.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 July 2017 at 3:37 pm

Walter Shaub’s ethics battle with Trump

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Sheelah Kolhatkar writes in the New Yorker:

Ever since Donald Trump was elected President of the United States and declared, shortly afterward, “The law’s totally on my side, the President can’t have a conflict of interest,” the hopes of those concerned about government integrity have resided largely in one man: Walter Shaub, the head of the Office of Government Ethics. Although Shaub’s term was set to end in January, 2018, the announcement this week that he is departing his post five months early was greeted with concern by ethics watchers. In their view, Shaub and people like him are urgently needed.
“Public service is a public trust,” Shaub wrote in his resignation letter, one requiring “employees to place loyalty to the Constitution, the laws and ethical principles above private gain.”
One of the gravest concerns that has weighed on ethics watchers over the last six months is the disquieting sense that Trump and his family are using his time in the White House to enrich themselves, a fear which Trump has done little to assuage. As of July 4th, the President had visited a Trump-branded property forty-nine out of his hundred and thirty-three days in office, according to the Washington Post, providing a running product placement for his Presidency, while a lawsuit filed by the attorneys general of Maryland and D.C. asserts that the Trump International Hotel in Washington has “specifically marketed itselfto the diplomatic community” since the Presidential election. The suit also mentioned the troubling implications of Trump-branded real-estate projects that are proceeding in the United Arab Emirates and Indonesia. In an interview on CBS News on Thursday evening, Shaub clarified some of his thoughts. “I can’t know what their intention is,” he said of the Trumps. “I know that the effect is that there’s an appearance that the businesses are profiting from his occupying the Presidency. And appearance matters as much as reality. So, even aside from whether or not that’s actually happening, we need to send a message to the world that the United States is going to have the gold standard for an ethics program in government, which is what we’ve always had.”
He also said, “I really feel like I’ve achieved all I can achieve under the current circumstances.”
In the past, the Office of Government Ethics was a quiet, not terribly exciting place whose director’s name was rarely known among the public; under Trump, the office was transformed into a place of urgency. Shaub has served as the only independent voice inside the government, monitoring the many conflicts of interest that surround Trump, and as a regular source of pressure and publicity around the Administration’s many ethics violations. He has shown through his actions that he regards his role as that of a guardian of the public interest in the purest sense. Most recently, Shaub criticized the Administration’s attempt to keep secret its decision to grant dozens of waivers that allowed government officials to circumvent the Administration’s own ethics rules. When, under pressure from Shaub, the waivers were made public, Shaub was quick to point out that some waivers had been, essentially, backdated to the beginning of Trump’s Presidency and might not even be valid. “If you need a retroactive waiver, you have violated a rule,” he told the Times.
His most powerful public comments came after Trump decided that he would break with Presidential precedent and retain full ownership of his real-estate and branding companies while in office. Previous Presidents have divested themselves of their business interests or put their assets in a blind trust, managed by a third party, over which they had no control. The President pledged to place his ownership interest in a trust and hand the day-to-day operational-management duties over to his sons, which, Shaub noted, assuredly and publicly, was largely a cosmetic decision. “This is not a blind trust,” he saidat the time. “Not even close.”
Shaub also took issue with Trump’s claim that he couldn’t sell his business, which most ethics experts said would come closest to resolving his conflicts, because it would be complicated to try to sell off a company based on his own brand and he might lose money in the process. As President, there are many policies Trump is involved in that could materially affect his company—rewriting the tax code; changing environmental or trade rules; developing relationships with countries in which the Trump Organization manages or licenses properties, or hopes to in the future. Continuing to collect revenue from the Trump Organization while making decisions as President that could affect the company would have an irreparable, cheapening effect on the office of the President: “We can’t risk creating the perception that government leaders would use their official positions for profit,” Shaub said.
After leaving his post at the O.G.E., Shaub will join the Campaign Legal Center, a nonpartisan organization based in Washington, D.C., as the director of its ethics program. According to Lawrence Noble, the Center’s general counsel, Shaub learned about the job opening only recently. “When the opportunity came for us to hire Walt, we couldn’t pass it up, . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 July 2017 at 2:40 pm

Shedding Light on the “Black Box of Inappropriateness”: Sexual assault by venture capitalists

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Cheryl Yeoh describes her experience of sexual assault by a venture capitalist:

From Creepy Comments to Sexual Assault

I’m shaking as I write this, not quite knowing where to start. As I’m sure Susan Fowler and Niniane, Susan & Leiti probably did, I’ve struggled long and hard over whether to come out with my own account of sexual harassment. After Sarah’s story in the NYT was published, I was quite sure I wouldn’t, because I thought I didn’t have to.

But after reading Dave’s post “I’m a Creep. I’m Sorry.,” I couldn’t help but feel compelled to tell my story. While Dave acknowledged and apologized for his “inappropriate behavior” towards multiple women, I felt it generalized his actions to inappropriate comments made in a “setting he thought was social.” It definitely didn’t address the severity of his sexual advances towards me and potentially others.

I’m now ready to tell my account of what Dave McClure inflicted on me 3 years ago, in my own apartment. It’s not just inappropriate, it’s assault.

When facts and details are not publicly disclosed, the whole matter gets lumped into one big black box of inappropriatenessNon-consensual, sexual advances are not the same as flirtatious comments from a creepy dude. The degree of harassment matters. Here’s why.

Just go onto Dave’s twitter and blog to see the swarm of comments supporting him for his authentic apology and courage in writing it. One guy even tweeted that Dave was just being Dave – he has always been, and will always be inappropriate! He’s famous for that. Big deal!

“Dave you’re not a creep, you’re a solid dude. I sorta wish you didn’t apologize for wanting a sex life like other human beings.”

“Dave, well done; continue. Listen, yr head went on a pike but yr past behaviour is THE NORM, every industry & setting. Keep communicating.”

“ This took guts. Respect to Dave as well here a great example.”

“Jesus F*cking Christ you are a MAN and hit on a woman. That is NORMAL behavior. Don’t let people neuter you publicly for being YOU!”

“you are only human! i wish u the best“

“Read your story of self castration. Sorry you felt it necessary. Theyre still going to call you a monster foreever. Shouldnt have apologized“

“Unpin this immediately and delete that medium post. You have nothing to be ashamed of. No counseling needed. You are a f*cking MAN OWN IT“

This is why I decided to tell my story. If I don’t, it would be far too easy to condone “inappropriateness,” and far too easy to gloss over it. Dave and other men in positions of power, could still react defensively and try to rationalize their behavior, as Dave did initially. If someone has a wife and two kids and still wants to sleep with other women, that’s their choice. But if someone uses their power as a VC to make repeated sexual, physical advances on women in a professional context, that goes way beyond being a creep.

Before I continue, I want to clarify that I still believe that 500 Startups stood for and continues to stand as a bastion of inclusiveness in the industry. 500 may have been co-founded by Dave McClureand Christine Tsai in 2010, but today, 500 is made up of 100+ diverse individuals, and thousands of diverse founders. 500 plays a crucial role in early stage funding and has been a strong supporter of many female, minority, international, LGBTQ and otherwise underrepresented founders. I would like us to keep that in mind while reading this, that the misconduct is directed at one individual, not the entire firm. I believe in 500 Startups and want to find constructive ways to deal with this.

Dave has done a lot for many founders, and people (including me) are grateful for his support in many ways. What he’s done for the startup community is commendable. It’s tough for some to accept the truth that Dave abused his power for sexual gain and put women in compromising, powerless positions. But we need to acknowledge the difference between inappropriate behavior and assault. What I experienced with Dave was the latter.

<> I just spoke to Sarah Kunst and learned from her that at least 12 other women including me, have faced sexual harassment or advances from Dave of various degrees. Some of them are portfolio company CEOs like myself. They’re afraid to come out, but some eventually will. I had doubts publishing this, but after talking to Sarah, it is clear to me now that I can’t just sit silently and trust that Dave’s behavior will stop, or that we can just file his misconduct under “Dave being Dave.” This is about protecting other women who might otherwise be subjected to his future unwanted sexual advances.

My Personal Account of Sexual Assault from Dave

3 years ago, I’d just moved from Silicon Valley to Malaysia, to take up a position as the Founding CEO of MaGIC, a government-funded innovation agency in Malaysia that was launched by President Obama and the Prime Minister of Malaysia on April 27, 2014 to spur tech startups in Malaysia and later Southeast Asia via its accelerator programs.

Given that my startup Reclip.It was previously funded by 500 Startups, and I had a good working relationship with Dave, I had already spoken to Dave about setting up an accelerator in Southeast Asia. He said he’d consider doing it if I helped him raise USD$10M for the fund, which would be managed by Khailee Ng, a fund manager of 500 Durians at the time (a microfund for Southeast Asia). I subsequently got the investments they needed secured.

On June 6, 2014, Dave flew into Malaysia to meet some of these investors and other tech players in the industry. I invited him to attend my board meeting that day as well. After the meeting, Khailee, Dave, and a few others (including two other females), decided to come over to my apartment to brainstorm about 500 Startups’ new Growth / Distribution Accelerator, Cerebro (later rebranded as Distro Dojo) and also a hashtag for MaGIC, the organization that I was leading.

What started out to be an innocent night of just jamming and hanging out at my new apartment turned into a nightmare episode that has been haunting me for the past 3 years. Dave kept pouring scotch into my glass before I finished drinking throughout the night, and hours into the night way past midnight, suddenly, everyone except Dave decided to order a cab. They all promptly left, and left Dave there with me. I was quite confused by how that happened so quickly.

I quickly asked if Dave wanted to leave like the rest of them but he said no. Perplexed, I offered him to crash on the couch or the guest room and proceeded to show him the guest room. Then I went into my own bedroom but Dave followed me there, and that’s when he first propositioned to sleep with me. I said no. I reminded Dave that he knew my then-boyfriend and that we’d just talked about him earlier that night.

At this point, I led him to the door and told him he needs to leave. On the way out, he pushed himself onto me to the point where I was backed into a corner, made contact to kiss me, and said something along the lines of “Just one night, please just this one time.” Then he told me how he really likes strong and smart women like me. Disgusted and outraged, I said no firmly again, pushed him away and made sure he was out my door.

Once he was gone, still in shock and in tears, I immediately called my boyfriend at the time and told him what had just happened. I couldn’t shake off thoughts of what might have happened if he had applied more force on me, or if I hadn’t been able to defend myself. The fact that I had to say no multiple times, and that he had push himself onto me and kissed me without my consent was way more than crossing the line of inappropriateness. It’s legally considered a sexual assault.

Unfortunately, I felt like I couldn’t speak up at the time, or even tell Khailee about it, because we had the Distro Dojo deal at stake and we were supposed to sign an LOI that week. I was extremely conflicted about it. On one hand, I was really upset with Dave’s individual misconduct and never wanted to work directly with him ever again, but on the other hand, if I said anything, I would most certainly kill the Distro Dojo deal. The deal wasn’t even for a personal benefit (if I were raising funds for my own startup, I wouldn’t have taken his money), but it has widespread regional impact. It was so important to Southeast Asia that Distro Dojo be established there. In hindsight, the program has indeed made a lot of positive impact to companies such as GrabKFITBukalapak, and others, and many would argue that 500 plays a fundamental role in the region’s startup ecosystem.

I just had to suck it up and put the incident behind me. Even if I spoke up, I wasn’t sure at the time if my story would be taken seriously. In fact, I felt like I had to “play nice” and avoid any sort of awkward confrontation for fear of repercussions on the deal. It’s the worst position to be in when you feel helpless about something you know was outright wrong. The point is, that I shouldn’t have been put in that position in the first place.

Plus, as a new CEO of such a public organization at the time, and with a huge task ahead of me, I just couldn’t spare the emotional or mental energy to report this incident at the time, and if you knew me over those 2 years, I was barely able to come up for air. It’s not easy for women to report incidents like these, and everyone is in a very different personal situation.

It wasn’t until later in 2015 that I was able to reveal this to 3 of my close friends. I knew this was something I wouldn’t be able to keep to myself forever.

When Dave finally got around to apologizing to me, it was a half-hearted message on FB.

I was disappointed that he used words like “If that incident last year made you feel uncomfortable, I’d like to apologize,” and “if I misread things or acted inappropriately.” If? It showed me that he did not think what he did was wrong, was not remorseful, did not own up to it and it was not a sincere apology. He even didn’t apologize on his own accord.

Dave didn’t feel compelled to change his behavior until forced by others. In his recent blog post, he admitted he was defensive even when caught and tried to rationalize his behavior with Sarah. He did not addressed the severity of the advances he made on me, nor the extremely conflicted and difficult position he put me in given that we had a business deal in the works. Like Sarah’s situation, he downplayed the incident as “misreading the situation.”

But This Wasn’t The First Time I’d Been Propositioned by Dave

On June 14, 2011 when I had successfully raised a seed round for my startup CityPockets, I hosted a networking event for entrepreneurs & investors in New York City with my friend Gary. Dave stopped by my event around midnight to congratulate me. After the event ended, I got a text message from Dave, stating his midtown hotel and room #. He asked if I wanted to “drop by his hotel room to chat” because he had a bottle of wine. Confused and unsure how to reply, I said I was tired and on my way home, no thanks. That was that. . .

Continue reading.

And virtual-reality companies seem to be even worse—unable to distinguish virtual and actual?

Written by LeisureGuy

9 July 2017 at 8:04 am

Posted in Business, Daily life

Kansas, Sam Brownback, and the Trickle-Down Implosion

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Justin Miller writes in The American Prospect:

ear midnight on Tuesday, June 6, a number of Republicans in the Kansas legislature did something that few other elected Republicans had done in years: They acted responsibly. Joining with Democrats, they voted to roll back the huge tax cuts that Republican Governor Sam Brownback had inflicted on the state, which had devastated schools and other essential services while also depressing the state’s economy. But after five years of this exercise in trickle-down, the damage had been done.

THE ROBERT B. DOCKING State Office Building looms large amid the sparse downtown Topeka landscape. Built along modernist lines in the 1950s, when government bureaucracy began to expand across the country, the simple concrete and glass structure provides a stark contrast with the Greco-Roman-style Kansas state capitol that has stood across the street since the late 19th century.

The Docking building was at one time home to most of the state government’s agencies, such as the Department of Revenue, the Department of Children and Families, and the Alcoholic Beverage Control. Today, the 12-story, 500,000-square-foot building sits nearly vacant—a laminated white sheet of paper on the door reads: “No More Public Services In This Building.” One by one, the alphabet soup of state agencies that once occupied the building moved out, most relocating to rented space in private office buildings.

The decaying, hollowed-out building stands as a grim testament to the blunt-force trauma that Brownback’s 2012 tax cuts visited on his state, and to the ensuing budgetary crises that led lawmakers to cut government services to the bone.

For years, Brownback has called for Docking to be demolished rather than renovated. It’s an apt metaphor for his approach to government.

The state’s health-care system teeters on the verge of catastrophe, as Brownback’s privatization of state Medicaid services and further refusal to expand Medicaid has squeezed low-income Kansans and health-care providers alike. Dozens of struggling hospitals across the state are on the verge of closing. “We have to make decisions every day, on which bills to pay. I mean that literally,” one small-town hospital CEO says. Brownback’s decision to cut taxes rather than restore K–12 public education funding has strained both urban and rural school districts, compelling two districts to end the school year early. Meanwhile, he’s ushered in drastic cuts to social services and placed strict work requirements and other limits on welfare programs.

By last year, even Republicans in this heavily Republican state (which Donald Trump carried last November by 21.5 percentage points) had had it with their governor’s insistence on turning the Sunflower State into a Petri dish for radical conservative economics. A number of Republican candidates ousted Brownback supporters in legislative primaries, and this year they teamed up with the minority Democrats in the legislature (whose numbers increased after last year’s elections) to begin rolling back the Brownback catastrophe. Overturning the governor’s vetoes, which required a two-thirds majority in each house, legislators this June voted to repeal the tax cuts enacted by Brownback and a Tea Party–dominated legislature in 2012.

But the devastation has been profound.

IN 2010, SAM BROWNBACK rode the Tea Party wave into the Kansas governorship, pledging to turn the state into a bulwark against President Barack Obama’s big-government liberalism. By 2012, through aggressive backroom politicking, he pressured hesitant moderate Republicans in the legislature to join conservatives in passing a radical tax plan that eliminated the state’s top income tax bracket, drastically slashed rates, and instituted an outright income tax exemption for limited liability companies—a huge tax break for a tiny segment of the population. Conversely, in a nod to “fiscal responsibility,” the plan did away with a number of tax credits that benefited low- and middle-income Kansans. Moderate Republicans in the Senate had thought they’d be able to engineer a less-extreme version of the cuts while in a conference committee with the House. They didn’t, and days later, Brownback signed into law perhaps the most radical version of trickle-down economics any state had ever embraced.

As part of the plan, Brownback instituted a “March to Zero” provision that would incrementally whittle the income and corporate tax rates down to nothing, while placing a 2.5 percent annual cap on state spending growth.

“Today’s legislation will create tens of thousands of new jobs and help make Kansas the best place in America to start and grow a small business,” Brownback pronounced when he signed the tax cuts into law on May 22, 2012.

But the governor’s push to create voodoo-economic bliss in Middle America never sparked that economic growth. To the contrary, Brownback’s Kansas has produced one of the worst-performing state economies in the country. While the nation has seen 7.6 percent job growth since 2013, Kansas has lagged far behind, with an anemic rate of 3.5 percent. Brownback has blamed the failure to achieve economic growth—and the resulting revenue underperformance—on downturns in the state’s agriculture and oil sectors, which, to be sure, have worsened the crisis on the margins but are not the driving force. Meanwhile, Kansans are fleeing the state in search of greener pastures: A 2015 survey found Kansas to be among the top ten states in the percentage of people packing up and moving away.

Brownback’s promise that the cuts—particularly the LLC exemption—would be “a shot of adrenaline” for the Kansas economy will be written on his political headstone.

The LLC exemption, the crown jewel of the governor’s tax policy, has allowed some 330,000 independent business owners—almost double the original estimates—to avoid state tax on most, if not all, their income, costing the state roughly $500 million in revenue in 2015 alone. A recent report from a team of researchers who scoured Kansans’ income tax returns concludes that the exemption has fueled more tax evasion than job creation.

Though Brownback argued that exempting owner-operated businesses from taxes would increase investment and jobs in the state, the report found no such results. “We can’t, to the best of our ability, find support for real responses in terms of economic activity because of the tax cuts,” report co-author and University of South Carolina economics professor Jason DeBacker says. Instead, the policy drove more people to simply reclassify their income as a pass-through to avoid taxation.

The small-business owners who were the intended beneficiaries suddenly had no tax liabilities each year. But with average savings of about $1,000 a month, according to one estimate, it was hardly enough to hire more workers or expand operations. One lawyer in suburban Johnson County told a Kansas City Star columnist in 2014 that he was saving as much as $10,000 a year—as were the 15 other partners in his practice—while the paralegals and other staffers with no ownership stake were still stuck paying income tax. He told the columnist that he planned to use his tax savings for a family vacation to Cancún. “I’m making out like a bandit, and it’s completely unfair,” he said.

Perhaps the most enlightening example of how the exemption worked came when a public radio station discovered in May 2016 that Bill Self, the head coach of the storied University of Kansas Jayhawks men’s basketball team, was not paying taxes on about 90 percent of his annual $3 million compensation.

While Self pays taxes on the $230,000 annual salary he earns as an employee of the university, he claims himself as an independent contractor for the additional $2.75 million for “professional services rendered,” as radio station KCUR reported. Kansas Athletics, Inc., which operates the university’s college sports, writes a $2.75 million check out to BCLT II, LLC, an entity owned by Self. Thanks to the exemption, Self, the highest-paid state employee, avoids taxation on that income, which would come to about $126,500 each year under the state’s current tax brackets. Other well-compensated university coaches in the state utilize LLCs as tax shelters as well. Not even Brownback’s staunchest supporters have argued that Self owns the team or that he has used his tax savings to expand its roster.

WHAT BROWNBACK’S TAX CUTS have accomplished is to have created a crisis of catastrophic proportions for state residents. The tax cuts blew an immediate hole in the $6 billion state budget, as revenue levels fell an astounding $713 million from fiscal years 2013 to 2014. Those revenue shortfalls have not abated in the years since. To help plug the hole, Brownback has run through all the state’s reserve funds and has increased borrowing, adding $1.3 billion to the state’s debt. “We are essentially the poorest state by now, with no rainy day fund—nothing in the bank,” says Duane Goossen, the former Kansas budget director for both Democratic and Republican governors.

The severely imbalanced budget led Moody’s to downgrade Kansas’s bond rating; three months later, Standard & Poor’s followed suit. The hit to the credit rating, though, was an inadequate measure of the damage to Kansans’ lives.

Like a number of Republican governors, Brownback refused to expand Medicaid in the state with federal dollars allotted by the Affordable Care Act, blocking 150,000 low-income Kansans from access to medical care and forcing dozens of struggling hospitals to operate in the red, many on the cusp of closure. Four years ago, Brownback privatized the state’s Medicaid program, arguing that Kansas should get out of the business of providing health-care services, and allow the private sector to provide less-expensive, higher-quality, and more-efficient care. However, the move has largely led to a crisis among beneficiaries and service providers alike, as access to care has become limited and state payouts to providers have been cut time and time again.

But Brownback’s budget cuts greatly compounded the problems created by his failure to expand Medicaid. They compelled the state to neglect the duties it is still in charge of—like enrollment, eligibility, contracts, and performance oversight. “They basically stopped doing all those things,” says Sheldon Weisgrau, director of the Health Reform Resource Project, which educates and assists with the implementation of health reform and ACA services in Kansas. “The functions left to the state can’t get done anymore because the state government has been so hollowed out.”

While federal law requires that states process Medicaid applications within 45 days, it can often take between six and eight months in Kansas. Last summer, the governor’s office claimed there was a backlog of more than 3,000 people waiting to get on Medicaid. That number was eventually found to be closer to 15,000 people. While the state quickly processes low-cost applicants like children and young adults, Weisgrau says, older people who need more care are on the waiting list far longer.

“What we’re seeing is they can’t get declared for Medicaid and thus can’t get into a nursing home; or people get into a nursing home but don’t get approved and the nursing home doesn’t get paid,” Weisgrau says. “People have died while on the backlog.”

Because Brownback slashed the number of state workers who determine Medicaid eligibility, those working on re-certifying recipients were shifted to certifying new applicants. Now, Weisgrau says, nobody is working on redetermination. “Typically if you don’t get redetermined, you get dropped out of the program. We hear reports from the field from providers who are no longer getting paid for those people,” Weisgrau explains.

Last year, the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services charged Kansas with violating federal compliance laws, stating that its administration of Medicaid was putting people’s health and safety at risk. Brownback’s office dismissed the report as a politically motivated potshot from the Obama administration as it was leaving the White House.

Many of the state’s rural hospitals, which are more likely to rely on Medicaid and Medicare reimbursements rather than private insurance payments, are struggling to stay open. All told, 34 Kansas hospitals are vulnerable to closing. One of those hospitals is Sumner Regional Medical Center in Wellington, 20 miles south of Wichita near the Oklahoma border. Voters in Sumner County have on multiple occasions voted to tax themselves to help keep the hospital open, most recently in 2016 when they approved a 1 percent sales tax increase.

“We’re in true survival mode, constantly,” the hospital’s CEO told the Kansas City Star. “If we’re going to go down, we’re going to go down swinging.”

If the Sumner hospital were to close, it could spell disaster for poor and elderly residents who might have a hard time making the trip up to Wichita, even more so for those who face a medical emergency. “Right now, if we lose [Sumner], we have people who live south of that along the Oklahoma border who, by the time an ambulance would get to them and back to a hospital, would have [a trip of] an hour or more,” says Anita Judd-Jenkins, a state representative whose district has three hospitals, two of which, including Sumner, are at risk of closure. “If that were your car wreck or your heart attack, would you not be concerned?”

BY PRIORITIZING HIS trickle-down tax cuts over all else, Brownback has also allowed a long-standing public school funding shortage to metastasize into a full-blown constitutional crisis.

Kansas’s public school system is more reliant on state funding than those of most states. More than half the state’s general fund is dedicated to funding K–12 public education. For decades, the state and local school districts have battled over funding levels and allocation.

In 2006, Kansas settled a lawsuit with school districts and committed to significant increases in funding over a three-year period. The state did increase funding, but when the Great Recession hit, then-Governor Mark Parkinson, a Democrat, made deep cuts to the education budget. The cuts were supposed to be temporary, but upon taking office in 2011, Brownback opted for his tax cuts rather than restoring the schools’ funding. Between 2008 and 2013, state school funding fell by 16.5 percent when adjusted for inflation. In 2015, Brownback cut $28 million more from the state K–12 education budget. A month later, he signed legislation that scrapped the state’s long-held school-financing formula, substituting a block-grant system that essentially locked in those cuts for the following two years. Two school districts were forced to end their school year early because they ran out of money.

Continue reading.  There’s a lot more and it’s a sorry record of abysmal failure.

This article is one of a series on “Trickle-Downers.” A note appended to the article explains the term:

Tax Cuts for the rich. Deregulation for the powerful. Wage suppression for everyone else. These are the tenets of trickle-down economics, the conservatives’ age-old strategy for advantaging the interests of the rich and powerful over those of the middle class and poor. The articles in Trickle-Downers are devoted, first, to exposing and refuting these lies, but equally, to reminding Americans that these claims aren’t made because they are true. Rather, they are made because they are the most effective way elites have found to bully, confuse and intimidate middle- and working-class voters. Trickle-down claims are not real economics. They are negotiating strategies. Here at the Prospect, we hope to help you win that negotiation.

Other articles in the series:

Kansas Redux: Illinois Legislature Overrides Governor’s Austerity Politics

Republicans Want to Make Deficit-Busting Tax Cuts Permanent
Real tax reform is hard. So a growing bloc of tax-cut enthusiasts wants to rewrite the rules of the game to secure rate reductions for the rich.

Kansas, Sam Brownback, and the Trickle-Down Implosion
The Kansas governor’s attempt to create supply-side nirvana in Middle America not only failed to grow the economy—it created a crippling crisis of government that led to a statewide rejection of his politics.

Senate Health-Care Bill: Tax Cuts for Rich, Skimpy Coverage for Everyone Else
Instead of moderating the GOP House’s version, the Senate health-care bill doubles down on cuts in coverage and tax cuts for the rich.

Paul ‘Jobs, Jobs, Jobs’ Ryan Should Heed Brownback’s Trickle-Down Failures
The Republican House speaker is trying to nationalize the failed tax experiment of his former boss, the Kansas governor.


Written by LeisureGuy

9 July 2017 at 6:18 am

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