Josh Harkinson

Josh Harkinson

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Born in Texas and based in San Francisco, Josh covers tech, labor, drug policy, and the environment. PGP public key.

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Honduran President Decides That Going to an Event Called "Disrupting Democracy" Isn't Such a Good Idea

An embattled leader bails on Silicon Valley technolibertarians to face actual disruption at home.

| Wed Jun. 10, 2015 6:00 AM EDT
A protester outside the Disrupting Democracy event, where the Honduran president had been scheduled to speak.

On Monday, Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández was expected to appear in San Francisco to talk about his efforts to cede a chunk of his impoverished Central American nation to an international group of investors who want to create an autonomous, self-governing, libertarian paradise. There was one problem, however: His talk was part of a speaker series called Disrupting Democracy, which may be a better venue for someone like Rand Paul than the beneficiary of a military coup who won office using funds allegedly embezzled from the national social security system.

Hernández and his deputies skipped Disrupting Democracy due to "civil unrest," according the event's organizers. On Sunday, 8,000 protesters had marched through the capital city of Tegucigalpa calling for his ouster.

"Before we begin, I would like to apologize for some confused messaging," said panelist Randy Hencken, who directs the Seasteading Institute, which promotes the creation of floating technoutopian nation-states and cosponsored the event. "Here in Silicon Valley, when we want to improve something, we say 'disrupt,'" Hencken continued. "Nobody in Honduras approved or even knew about that whimsical title, which, when translated from English into Spanish, could easily be construed in a negative and unintended light."

At least a dozen anti-Hernández protesters showed up oustide the event, which was held at the South of Market headquarters of Lincoln Labs, a tech incubator cofounded by a former Mitt Romney campaign staffer.

"Nobody in Honduras approved or even knew about that whimsical title, which, when translated from English into Spanish, could easily be construed in a negative and unintended light."

The first Disrupting Democracy event, held in May, featured Paul discussing the growth of "a new generation of voter engagement." Any subject that appeals to both libertarians and techies appears to interest Lincoln Labs, which was founded in 2013 to serve "liberty advocates living in Silicon Valley"—"a forgotten community that felt ostracized with no home." Other Lincoln Labs events include its Reboot conferences and hackathons focusing on the technology of political campaigning.

Everyone at Monday's event seemed to agree that the Honduran scheme, known as Zones for Employment and Economic Development, or ZEDEs, now seemed imperiled—a discouraging turn, given Hernández's close cooperation with antitax crusader Grover Norquist and high-ranking representatives of the libertarian Cato and Hayek Institutes.

Yet the seasteaders were undeterred, even emboldened. If Honduras didn't want to create a Hong-Kong style city on its coast, maybe it would host a floating city in its territorial waters. "That gets rid of complaints of ceding over large portions of land," noted Seasteading Institute member Mike Doty, who had a long gray beard and a pirate-skull-patterned bandanna. "On the Pacific side, there's a large bay there…They've done the engineering studies, the feasibility studies. We're pretty far along."

One thing that can never be disrupted, it seems, is the vision of a technolibertarian.

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Google's New Diversity Stats Are Only Slightly Less Embarrassing Than They Were Last Year

This might take a while.

| Tue Jun. 2, 2015 4:36 PM EDT

Around this time last year, Google shocked Silicon Valley by voluntarily releasing statistics on the diversity of its workforce. The move helped shame other large tech companies into doing the same, and the picture that emerged wasn't pretty: In most cases, only 10 percent of the companies' overall employees were black or Latino, compared to 27 percent in the US workforce as a whole. For its own part, Google admitted that "we're miles from where we want to be," and pledged to do more to cultivate minority and female tech talent.

Now Google has an update: Its 2015 diversity stats, released yesterday, show that it has moved inches, not miles, toward a workforce that reflects America. The representation of female techies ticked up by 1 percentage point (from 17 to 18 percent), Asians gained 1 point, and whites, though still the majority, slipped by 1 point. Otherwise, the numbers are unchanged:

Google

"With an organization our size, year-on-year growth and meaningful change is going to take time," Nancy Lee, Google's vice president of people operations, told the Guardian. Last year, Google spent $115 million on diversity initiatives and dispatched its own engineers to historically black colleges and universities to teach introductory computer science courses and help graduating students prepare for job searches. But unlike Intel, another big tech company that has prioritized diversity, Google has not set firm goals for diversifying its talent pool.

"While every company cannot match Intel's ambitious plan, they can set concrete, measurable goals, targets, and timetables," said a statement from the Reverend Jesse Jackson, who last year played a key role in convincing Google and other companies to disclose their diversity stats. "If they don't measure it, they don't mean it."

Could LA's $15 Minimum Wage Sweep the Nation?

The measure's 14-1 victory was no accident, after all. It was part of a concerted local and national effort.

| Thu May 21, 2015 4:46 PM EDT
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti after announcing his support for a $15 minimum wage.

On Tuesday, Los Angeles became the third major West Coast city to pass a $15 minimum wage ordinance. Though the law won't fully go into effect until 2020, it's a huge deal. LA is larger than San Francisco and Seattle, the two other $15-an-hour cities, combined. It also has a much larger contingent of low-wage workers. The ordinance will give a raise to an estimated 750,000 Angelenos, or about 46 percent of the city's workforce.

LA's wage hike points to the potential for a major minimum wage boost to sweep the country. Although experts disagree about the LA measure's impact on growth and employment, the City Council passed it by a 14-to-1 margin. The $15 wage polls well in LA and nationally, despite a dearth of national politicians pushing for such a large increase. If organizers play their cards right, this suggests a $15 wage could gain traction in other cities.

"The facts and campaign brought to bear in LA were in many ways only a next step in the move to address income inequality."

So how did it happen? The original proposal, after all, was a more modest one. The measure's backers attribute their success to a combination of grassroots and national organizing. The umbrella group leading the push, the Raise the Wage Coalition, includes more than 260 local organizations from labor, business, entertainment, and the civil rights movement. It marshaled economic studies to justify a $15 wage and delivered more than 100,000 petition signatures in favor. But it also benefited from what organizers call "air support"—the national campaign to pressure Walmart and McDonald's into implementing a $15-an-hour base wage.

"It created a narrative that made it really hard for council members to simply look past the realities of what hard-working people are experiencing," says Rusty Hicks, executive secretary treasurer of the LA County Federation of Labor. "The facts and campaign brought to bear in LA were in many ways only a next step in the move to address income inequality."

The organizers are already eyeing other SoCal cities. "It is not our intention to just stop in LA," says Laphonza Butler, president of the Service Employees International Union in California and co-organizer, with Hicks, of Raise the Wage Coalition. "We need to raise the wage all across the region."

The group's next most likely contenders are Pasadena and West Hollywood.

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