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Backlash against US president Donald Trump’s “Muslim ban” hit afever pitch in Silicon Valley this week. At least 2,000 Google employees walked out of offices worldwide. Venture capitalists donated tens of thousands of dollars to civil rights groups. More than 200,000 people deleted Uber’s app over the company’s perceived support of Trump, all but forcing Uber CEO Travis Kalanick to resignfrom the president’s economic advisory council.
Elsewhere in corporate America, the response has been muted. But for tech, which has woven liberal values into the fabric of its identity, staying silent is no longer an option. Facebook wants to “connect the world,” Airbnb to fashion a world where “anyone can belong.” Google’s longtime motto was simply “don’t be evil.” Such mission statements seem inevitably opposed to the aims of the new US administration, which Alphabet (née Google) chairman Eric Schmidt recently said would “do evil things.”
Yet the tech industry’s moral compass is not so aligned as its leaders would have us believe. While the average engineer earns well into the six figures, those who fill other jobs, like janitors and security guards, are frequently hired through staffing firms to keep them off corporate payrolls and ineligible for benefits. The lavish offices set up by startups like Airbnb are located just steps away from sprawlinghomeless encampments. Last year, Yelp fired a customer service agent after she told its CEO she couldn’t afford to buy groceries.
Meanwhile, the threat of automation looms large, and influential economists are blaming “superstar” firms like Google and Facebook for US workers’ falling share of income. Enthusiasm for the sharing economy and its new model of “gig” labor has faded intodisillusionment and ennui.
Tech CEOs may be decrying labor and immigration policies that are outside of their control, but many remain complicit in enforcing poor policies of their own. That isn’t just bad for workers in Silicon Valley: It’s also the very type of disconnect that laid the groundwork for Donald Trump to win the US presidency. —Alison Griswold
FIVE THINGS ON QUARTZ WE ESPECIALLY LIKED
The Exxon that Rex Tillerson leaves behind. The oil giant has the largest resource base in the industry, but its performance has lagged. As its ex-boss, Rex Tillerson, heads into Trump’s cabinet, Steve LeVine profiles the company and examines whether its stubborn bet on the continued primacy of fossil fuels is disastrously blinkered or a strategy that will help it outlive its rivals.
Understanding Trump’s Supreme Court pick. Feminists have depicted appeals court judge Neil Gorsuch as a disaster for women, based on his ruling in the Hobby Lobby case. Ephrat Livni, unpacking how an appeals process works, shows why contraceptive rights were not in fact at issue in the case, and why we need to give Gorsuch the benefit of the doubt for now.
Steve Bannon’s vision for America. To know what Donald Trump’s presidency is all about, don’t ask Trump; ask Steve Bannon, his chief strategist. Using Bannon’s own words—from his lectures, documentaries, and radio shows—Gwynn Guilford and Nikhil Sonnad dive deep into his political mind. What emerges is a profound desire to infuse America with nationalism and “Judeo-Christian values,” in preparation for a “global existential war” with Islam.
The plot against the US corporate income tax. Donald Trump’s eagerness to pick trade fights threatens to undermine his own party’s plan to eliminate the corporate income tax. Tim Fernholz digs into why Republicans want to adopt a European-style sales tax, what “border adjustment” is, and why that’s not the same as a 20% tariff on imports from Mexico—even if saying so may be the best way to sell a corporate giveaway in a populist political environment.
How Indian firms prepared for the coming visa crunch.Proposals to slash the number of H-1B visas for foreign professionals in the US are being seen as the death knell for India’s outsourcing firms, which snap up many of them. In fact, Ananya Bhattacharya and Itika Sharma Punit explain, the companies have seen this coming for a decade, and have already adjusted their hiring practices to be ready for it.
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FIVE THINGS ELSEWHERE THAT MADE US SMARTER
Riding with the ISIL-hunters. The Nineveh Province SWAT team is an elite Iraqi police unit made up entirely of men who have been wounded by or lost a loved one to ISIL. The New Yorker’s Luke Mogelson and photographer Victor J. Blue provide an extraordinarily intimate chronicle of close-quarters fighting and the desperate comradeship of men in extreme conditions kept going by the sheer spirit of revenge.
How to build an autocracy. Perhaps the best so far of the many pieces analyzing how a Trump presidency could eat away at the institutional bedrock of American democracy—not by repression, but by political polarization, the gradual elimination of checks and balances, and a piecemeal erosion of organized opposition. David Frum in the Atlantic enumerates the system’s weaknesses and offers a (rather weak) hope for overcoming them.
What happens when Moore’s Law runs out? After four decades, the rule that computing power doubles every couple of years is approaching the limits of physics. So are we about to reach the end of a golden age of progress? Tim Cross in the Guardian explains how other things, from better software to quantum computing, will take over, but will change the nature of the computer industry.
The techniques of post-truth rhetoric. Lili Loofburouw, who last year wrote an invaluable guide to Trump’s rhetorical tricks, nowdissects the methods used by his chief spin-doctor, Kellyanne Conway, to defuse and deflect awkward questions. Both pieces, in the Week, are a valuable insight into how simple tropes of language can subconsciously distract the listener from the fact that the speaker is ignoring the real issue or simply not making sense.
The raccoon-lovers of Guadeloupe. The animal that is so despised across the world for destroying crops in farms and tipping trash in cities is beloved on this one Caribbean island. A Radiolab podcast tries to find out why Guadeloupeans think the raccoon is so special, and ends up raising deep philosophical questions about our connection with nature.
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