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Extra Crunch Partner Perk: Get 6 months free of Zendesk Support and Sales CRM

We’re excited to announce an update to the Extra Crunch Partner Perk from Zendesk. Starting today, annual and two-year Extra Crunch members that are new to Zendesk, and meet their startup qualifications, can now receive six months of free access to Zendesk’s Sales CRM, in addition to Zendesk Support Suite, Zendesk Explore and Zendesk Sunshine.

Here is an overview of the program.

Zendesk is a service-first CRM company with support, sales and customer engagement products designed to improve customer relationships. This offer is only available for startups that are new to Zendesk, have fewer than 100 employees and are funded but have not raised beyond a Series B.

The Zendesk Partner Perk from Extra Crunch is inclusive of subscription fees, free for six months, after which you will be responsible for payment. Any downgrades to your Zendesk subscription will result in the forfeiture of the promotion, so please check with Zendesk first regarding any changes (startups@zendesk.com). Some add-ons such as Zendesk Talk and Zendesk Sell minutes are not included. Complete details of what’s included can be found here.

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Fundraising lessons from David Rogier of MasterClass

Conventional wisdom says your company should be up and running and have some traction before you raise. But MasterClass co-founder David Rogier says entrepreneurs should try to raise funds before launching.

Before going live, David raised $6.4 million — $1.9 million in a seed round and $4.5 million in a Series A — for what would become MasterClass. To date, the company has raised six funding rounds and secured almost $240 million.

MasterClass’s first investment actually came from Michael Dearing, the founder of VC firm Harrison Metal and one of David’s business school professors. After graduating from Stanford University Graduate School of Business, David started working for Michael at the firm. About a year in, he quit to start his own company.

When David gave his notice, Michael told him he would invest just under $500,000, even though David didn’t have an idea yet.

“I was honored, I was thrilled and I was terrified, all within the span of 10 seconds,” David says. “It was an amazing gift, but I also felt an immense amount of pressure. I knew this was a once-in-a-lifetime chance, and I didn’t want to mess it up.”

He drew a blank for a year, but finally got inspiration from a story his grandmother told him when he was in second grade. In it, she stressed the importance of education, the one thing no one can ever take away from you. Upon remembering that lesson, David knew he wanted to give as many people as possible the opportunity to learn from the best, and MasterClass was born.

In an episode of How I Raised It, David shares some of his secrets to raising capital.

First money, then metrics

Securing funding before you even launch your company definitely isn’t a common practice. But David is adamant that you should attempt it.

“Your metrics out of the gate are never going to be great,” David says. “You need enough funds to have the time to actually improve them.” At the beginning, instead of relying on data, you should sell investors on your vision.

Of course, this is easier said than done. Many investors don’t want to give you a dime until you’ve proven your concept works. To overcome this barrier, David figured out what he could do to help minimize risk for investors.

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The Shed is a startup out of Virginia trying to revive the rental-for-everything business

Reducing consumption by expanding the notion of the rental economy and giving people access to tools and equipment has been something of a startup holy grail for some time.

It’s a model that’s worked famously well for fashion and accessories (just ask investors in Rent the Runway), but has had not had the same resonance for white label goods.

The Shed, out of Richmond, Va., hopes to change that.

Launched by Karen Rodgers O’Neil, a longtime marketing executive, and Daniel Perrone, a serial entrepreneur and technology executive whose previous company, BroadMap, was acquired by Apple; The Shed hopes to take the rental model that Home Depot has turned into a billion dollar business line and take it to the masses.

Unlike Home Depot, The Shed touts its presence in eight categories. Stanley Black & Decker is a marquee early partner and the company’s executives said that others have come on board.

“We don’t buy product,” said Perrone. “We take delivery of all the products and rent them out in the local marketplaces where we do business.”

The only thing the manufacturer provides is the products and some servicing starter kit so that The Shed and its employees can manage and maintain the product.

The Shed founders Karen Rodgers O’Neil and Daniel Perrone. Image Credit: The Shed

Since its launch in April the company has expanded beyond its Richmond, Va. home base to Denver — and will be looking to expand further into Portland, Austin, and San Jose, according to Perrone.

Among the features that the company intends to roll out as it expands is a dynamic pricing capability that will enable manufacturers to wring the most out of their goods when they’re in high demand.

Rodgers O’Neil came up with the concept back in 2012 when she was working as a marketing executive for General Electric out of Boston.  Perrone met Rodgers O’Neil at a networking event in Boston and became convinced that her notion of offering more rental options to encourage a more circular economy and reduce consumption was something that could resonate with consumers.

To be sure, The Shed isn’t the first company to attempt to bring the rental business to a broader array of consumer products in an effort to cut down on consumption. The Los Angeles-based startup Joymode was attempting to do much the same thing. That company sold to an early stage investment firm out of New York.

Joymode’s chief executive, Joe Fernandez spoke about the difficulty of running the business. “Part of the thesis was that by making things available for rental, people would want to do more stuff,” said Fernandez, but what happened was that consumers needed additional reasons to use the company’s service, and there weren’t enough events to drive demand.

By contrast, The Shed isn’t owning any of the inventory, just acting as a broker and managing inventory between local retailers and manufacturers who want to take advantage of the company’s service.

In addition to Stanley Black & Decker, companies like Primus camping equipment have placed their products on The Shed along with Mobility Plus, which added wheelchairs and mobility scooters; and Replacements, the largest china dealer in the country, which is offering a “Party in a Box” for dinner, cocktail or tea parties.

To date, the company has raised $1.75 million from investors and entrepreneurs from the Richmond, Va. area. Now, with 60 manufacturers on board and another 15 to 18 vendors signing up monthly, the company is looking to expand even further.

“I joined with Karen because I saw that this would be a game changer in the rental space,” said Perrone. There are a number of retailers in specific verticals that still don’t transact online, so The Shed becomes their avenue to reach the market, he said.

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The H-1B visa ban is creating nearshore business partnership opportunities

In June, President Donald Trump signed an executive order temporarily suspending work visas for H-1B holders, which includes skilled workers like software developers.

Considering that 71% of workers in Silicon Valley and other tech hubs are international, the order poses a number of logistical and business challenges for startups.

While nearshoring was an option before the virus struck, the urgency to nearshore due to the visa ban, combined with the remote revolution taking place, has meant companies are reconsidering it as a solution. As a result, the suspension presents an opportunity for companies to bring on board software development capabilities from abroad.

Nearshoring is a way to hire teams in locations that share similar time zones and are easily accessible. Nearshoring also enables U.S. companies to utilize services from close locations, where the talent, working conditions, and salaries are more favorable. In fact, it can save businesses up to 80% on costs, while providing employees with flexibility, autonomy and better career development pathways.

Not only is nearshoring a pragmatic response to the visa ban, it has the potential to be a long-term hiring alternative for businesses. Here’s how:

Laying the groundwork for remote teams

Amid the pandemic, demand for developers has remained high, no doubt due to companies needing teams to build, maintain and optimize digital platforms as they transition to online services. The visa ban means that businesses in foreign markets can help meet such demand, particularly as tech talent from other countries comes with a fresh, different skill set that empowers companies to solve problems in new ways.

In the past, moving to the U.S. and living the American Dream oriented many foreign businesses’ professional paths. However, the trend has changed. The appeal of the United States was slipping prior to the virus — it ranked 46th out of 66 for “perceived friendliest to expats” — and post-COVID-19 may be even more detrimental.

In a more connected world, businesses and individuals can reap the benefits of U.S. opportunities — top technology stack, access to exciting companies and world-class research — without having to actually live in the country. In this respect, nearshoring means foreign teams have the best of both worlds: the comfort of home and ties to an international powerhouse.

The remote shift is demonstrating that teams can function well at a distance; some studies have even revealed that employee productivity and happiness benefit from remote work. In the global remote shift, nearshoring is being seen as an accepted and advantageous model. Companies that opt to nearshore in response to the visa ban can take advantage of the changing tides and use this time to lay the groundwork for best practices within remote teams. For instance, by devising policies for things like communication, tracking progress, vacation and development plans according to the new conditions and specific mission statements. As a result, businesses can seamlessly build professional partnerships.

Another advantage of nearshoring is that the flexible teams contribute to a ready-to-scale model for startups. By having development partners located in different countries, companies can network on a wider level and grow faster among local markets. Rather than start from scratch when expanding, nearshoring gives companies a presence — no matter how small — across regions, which can later be built upon.

Attracting fresh investment

Similar to having a readiness to scale, the H-1B visa suspension positions nearshoring as a viable way to strategically partner with foreign development studios. In contrast to offshoring, nearshored businesses are often more vested in the projects they work on because they share time zones and are thus able to work more closely and with greater agility. Within startups, such agility is essential to continuously test, iterate and pivot products or services. Outsourced teams often have defined outputs to achieve, while freelancers are split across several projects, so aren’t completely ingrained in companies’ visions.

With nearshoring, startups can target partners that have experience in a particular area of business or with a specific tech feature and accelerate their time to market. Instead of building systems from zero, they can launch into version 2.0 because the wider choice of experts means there’s a higher chance of partnering with teams who already understand how the industry functions. Nearshore partners also have vast knowledge across industrial fields at a level that is impossible for direct hires to have. Companies therefore don’t have to tackle the difficulty of curating a great team, because nearshore partners are an already solid pairing.

When it comes to funding, this synchronicity, agility and preparedness indicates that a startup has momentum. For investors, nearshoring shows that the company has on-the-ground insights about potential markets to disrupt, and that the business model can thrive using remote teams. As the world braces itself to go fully digital, startups that have already adopted remote processes that catalyze growth will no doubt catch the attention of investors.

Promoting greater diversity in teams

Latin America is a clear choice for U.S. businesses looking to nearshore. The region’s proximity, increasing internet penetration, and impressive number of highly skilled developers are all a significant draw.

It’s also worth noting that diversity plays a core role in nearshoring. Currently within tech, Hispanic workers are noticeably underrepresented, making up a mere 16.7% of jobs. Despite the physical distance, nearshoring in Latin America can bring people from different social and economic backgrounds into companies, boosting their visibility in industries as a whole, and setting a firm foundation for equality.

Studies also show that diversity influences creativity among teams, as well as increases company revenue.

Moreover, nearshoring accelerates diversity in a manner that isn’t disruptive. Foreign team members don’t have to sacrifice their home, friends and family to further their professional career. Relocating to the U.S. can be daunting for people who haven’t previously worked abroad, especially when factoring the change in living costs and new culture norms. Nearshoring means teams can work from locations they’re familiar with, so need less time to get up to speed on business processes. They additionally have the emotional support of their social circles nearby, which in the current climate is important for employees’ personal and professional wellbeing.

Leveraging the right partnership

Research is key to successfully find a nearshore company, and startups don’t always have the time and resources to conduct an in-depth analysis of locations and their ecosystems. The most practical manner to nearshore the right talent is with a nearshoring partner that is responsible for scouting, vetting and communicating with foreign developers.

To find an appropriate partner, ensure that they have previous experience in your industry and positive testimonials from startups in your location. They should also have a clear presence in the regions they operate in; try checking online for their press releases, events they sponsor and general content that validates they are active and respected.

Once you’ve found an appropriate nearshore partner, rely on them to know what teams in your preferred locations need in terms of culture. Nearshore partners will essentially be your development partner — you can leverage them to be your whole Research and Development department. They can guide you on the tech side of your business, advise you on the right team at the right time, give you direction on stack and methodology, and curate the right environment for the team to be productive. In contrast, hiring freelancers comes with risks because you won’t necessarily know the specific needs of the location they’re in. Be aware — if there’s a cultural disconnect, you risk not finding a partner, but a vendor that’s buying into a superficial version of your startup, as opposed to your real startup vision.

Once you’ve settled on a well-fitting nearshoring partner, ensure you have detailed contracts with all team members, as well as nondisclosure agreements. Nearshoring requires a level of mutual trust, however, at such an early stage of your company’s lifecycle, you need to know that your processes and data will not be revealed to competitors. Check that your nearshore partner’s financial status is secure and sufficient for a long-term model. Correspondingly, service level agreements will set the parameters for job responsibilities and deliverables. After all the formalities are covered, you can focus on curating fruitful, long-term relationships.

Acclimatizing in the new normal

The COVID-19 crisis has made recruitment a remote-dominated sphere. Traditional modes of hiring are being reassessed, and companies are realizing that teams don’t have to be in an office to be productive. In fact, not having to cover visa and administration fees for foreign employees is much more cost-effective for companies.

As time passes and businesses develop habits best-suited to remote work, nearshoring will become increasingly popular. People are prioritizing joining teams where their career development, well-being and ethics are protected, all of which nearshoring can offer with the added benefit of not completely upheaving workers’ lives.

Startups who embrace nearshoring early on could find themselves competing with top tech firms that struggle because of recruiting limitations. With the end of the pandemic unknown, and thus no hard deadline for the visa ban, tech companies have to look at alternative modes of building teams. Startups have the advantage of revising their remote product development approach without disturbing workflows too severely. They are also known for pioneering fairer and more innovative workplaces that are enticing for a broader scope of employees.

Nearshoring is mutually beneficial because developers don’t have to give up their culture for a great employment opportunity, and businesses can reap the benefits of diversification. Ultimately, the H-1B visa suspension could stimulate true globalization in tech, where companies can achieve their best performance using global resources.

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Join Twilio’s Jeff Lawson for a live Q&A August 25 at 3:30 pm EDT/12:30 pm PDT

As we race toward Disrupt 2020, we’re keeping the Extra Crunch Live train rolling with a big entry next week as Twilio CEO and co-founder Jeff Lawson joins us for a chat.

Lawson is well-known in the tech industry for helping institutionalize API -delivered digital services, a business model variant that has become increasingly popular in recent years. Twilio has become a giant in and of itself, worth more than $37 billion today after going public in 2016.

As always, we’ll take some questions from the audience, so bring your best material.

Considering Twilio, it’s position in the mind of API-focused startups everywhere is notable. You tend to hear API-powered startups mention Twilio and Stripe as the two companies that they are mimicking, albeit usually with a different focus: “We’re building the Twilio for X.”

The power of API-driven startups with usage-based pricing and nearly SaaS-like gross margins is something private investors have certainly noticed and are betting on.

But there’s more to Twilio and Lawson than just that one topic, so we’ll also spend time riffing on when is the right time for a private company to go public, how his life has changed since the IPO, and what advice he might have for the super-late-stage startups who can’t seem to get out of the wings and onto the public markets. And, why, odd duck amongst most of the tech-famous, he doesn’t appear to make many angel investments.

Details follow for Extra Crunch members. If you aren’t one yet, sign up today so you can join our conversation.

Details

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The ‘right’ way to downsize

What years of working with startups taught me about laying people off

A little over a year into launching StrongLoop, an enterprise API startup eventually acquired by IBM, we were out over our skis. It was my doing — having built a vast top of funnel, we expected our product to have a specific sell-through rate and I’d optimistically hired in engineering, customer support, marketing and sales. However, the sales cycles were long, burn rate was too high and we had too many highly skilled people who were a little bored. It was time to orchestrate a reduction in force.

I’d been laid off a few times myself, once from a pivoting startup and again during the downturn of 2001, so I knew what it felt like. I’d also been a manager at a larger company that laid off employees, so I’d seen the corporate playbook. But as the CEO, I had personally sold these people on our vision, cramming into a small substandard office with them for months or years — it felt very personal. Back then, the job market was robust: I didn’t worry about team members finding new jobs. Today is more uncertain.

With many startups under the pressure of a pandemic-fueled economic crisis, I interviewed several CEOs who have had to orchestrate COVID-19-related layoffs to capture (what I believe) are some best practices to downsize correctly and compassionately.

Put people before projects

One company had a pending product launch, yet a few renewals were pushed due to COVID-19-based uncertainty. Meanwhile, the board had decided to extend runway to have more options. The question was: Should the company complete the product launch and let employees know they’re losing their jobs after? Or should they tell employees ahead of time, risking a loss in focus while some members of the team (correctly) start looking for jobs?

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Microsoft pursuing TikTok purchase by September 15th, may invite U.S. investors to deal

Microsoft has posted a statement today on its corporate blog that says it will continue discussions on a potential TikTok purchase in the U.S.. As a part of the statement, it says that it may invite other “American investors” to participate on a minority basis.

The company says that this is a result of conversations between CEO Satya Nadella and President Trump. That is, basically, the ‘news’ here. Previous reports and our own digging pointed to the situation being totally in the hands of the White House, with Microsoft willing to make the buy but having roadblocks in the form of Presidential sentiment. If Satya has engaged Trump directly then there could be light at the end of this possibility tunnel after all.

“Following a conversation between Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and President Donald J. Trump, Microsoft is prepared to continue discussions to explore a purchase of TikTok in the United States,” the statement reads. “Microsoft fully appreciates the importance of addressing the President’s concerns. It is committed to acquiring TikTok subject to a complete security review and providing proper economic benefits to the United States, including the United States Treasury.”

Microsoft says that in any case their discussions about acquisition from ByteDance would complete no later than September 15th, 2020 and that it is keeping discussion ongoing with the President and the U.S. government.

The purchase would cover TikTok operations in the U.S., Canada, Australia and New Zealand and would result in Microsoft owning and operating it in those markets. One region not mentioned here is India, which could provide an interesting future opportunity for both companies if this deal goes down. If Microsoft can position itself as a steward of TikTok it removes the data issue (if not the over-arching national tensions between China and India).

Unsurprisingly, data and privacy protections ​make an appearance, with Microsoft assuring that “the operating model for the service would be built to ensure transparency to users as well as appropriate security oversight by governments in these countries.”

“Among other measures, Microsoft would ensure that all private data of TikTok’s American users is transferred to and remains in the United States. To the extent that any such data is currently stored or backed-up outside the United States, Microsoft would ensure that this data is deleted from servers outside the country after it is transferred.”

The historical here (if you can call it that because this whole thing has been the work of but a couple weeks tops) is that Microsoft is pursuing TikTok because ByteDance needs to divest it in order to keep it running in the U.S., one of its biggest markets. That need arose when the White House decided that it was important to make a stink about data sovereignty with relation to the China-owned network. Even though social services of many kinds including Facebook, Twitter, Google (all of which are banned in China already) and others offer aggregate data through advertising brokerages that can make deals globally, the opportunity presented itself to run up the anti-China flag and take aim at an easy target — an app that undoubtedly has access to an enormous amount of behavioral data on U.S. citizens and therefore has genuine data privacy concerns.

And then there’s the fun Twitter theory that Trump just got pissed at a comedian who got very popular making fun of him on the platform.

Anyway, now we have another tock in the TikTok ticking clock. We’ll reach out to all parties but this looks like it may be the final result of this weekend’s flurry of news on this. We’ll see you Monday morning.

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Danish nod gives Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline fresh traction

When the Danish Energy Agency (DEA) this week authorized the use of Russian ships able to lay the final part of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, advocates of the delayed project rejoiced. The move paves the way for the pipeline to reach its destination in Lubmin near Greifswald on Germany’s Baltic coast before the end of this year.

But US sanctions and technical issues could still upset the best laid of plans.

Some 1,230 kilometers (775 miles) in length, Nord Stream 2 is set to run from Russia’s Ust-Luga, but is now on hold 160 kilometers off the German coast after US sanctions came into force before Christmas seeing Swiss-Dutch company Allseas to withdraw its ships.

The €10 billion ($11 billion) pipeline would double Russia’s direct export capacity to Germany as a first entry point to the EU to 110 billion cubic meters (bcm) per year. It is strongly opposed by Poland and Ukraine in Europe and the US.

Mere technicalities?

The two Russian vessels able to conduct the work are both moored in the German port of Mukran: pipe-layer Akademik Cherskiy and the anchored barge, Fortuna.

In May, Gazprom brought Akademik Cherskiy to the Baltic Sea from the Russian Far East. It is the only modern ship in Russia for laying submarine gas pipelines that is also equipped with a dynamic positioning (DP) system, which allows ships to determine their position and perform precise maneuvers without the use of anchors.

Allseas’ deep sea pipe-laying ship Solitaire stopped operations within the Nord Stream 2 project when faced with massive US sanctions

Danish law requires companies building undersea infrastructure to use vessels equipped with a DP system, to avoid the huge stocks of chemical weapons left on the seabed after WWII. But, according to Russian media, to complete the laying of Nord Stream 2, Fortuna, which does not have a DP system, is also needed.

“Gazprom may try to use the two vessels simultaneously,” Mateusz Kubiak, an oil and gas expert with Warsaw-based consultancy firm Esperis, speculated. “Another option would be to use vessels tethered, in tandem. This, however, would be a very unusual option and might be quite risky,” he noted.

US sanctions

Meanwhile, the US Congress is discussing a new sanctions bill that would extend the scope of already imposed penalties, targeting the insurers, companies working on related pipe-laying activities, such as trenching, site preparation, rock placement and those involved in the modernization or tethering of the vessels.

However, the key provision of the newly proposed sanctions is to hit entities (so-called “classification societies”) that provide certification services for Nord Stream 2.

“Ultimately, this might be even more effective than previously endorsed sanctions on the pipe-laying vessels, as the Russians may not be able to replace foreign classification societies,” Kubiak believes. Norway’s DNV was assigned to perform this role on Nord Stream 2 and the whole pipeline has been designed and built according to DNV standards.

“It seems highly questionable whether it will be possible for the Russians to meet NS2 compliance with DNV standards. Not mentioning that such a certification should be done by an independent, third-party entity,” he said.

Added to this, the bill is not expected to be enacted earlier than in the fall, after Congress returns from its summer break in August. “The DEA’s decision might provide a new impetus to adopt such legislation,” said Katja Yafimava from the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies. But, “ultimately new US sanctions would not stop NS2 but would significantly worsen the US relationship with Europe,” she added.

“Denmark’s decision makes it definitely much easier and cheaper for Russia to complete Nord Stream 2,” said Anna Mikulska from Rice University in Texas. “Now the question is whether the already existing US sanctions would then apply to Gazprom,” she said, noting that Akademik Czersky is now owned by the Samara Thermal Energy Property Fund (STIF), whose operating entity was Gazprom Fleet, a subsidiary of Gazprom.

STIF is on the list of Gazprom-affiliated groups and the vessel remains under operational management of Gazprom Fleet, which is apparently already included in some less stringent sector sanctions

“But the question is not only what these sanctions mean for NS2 and Europe but also what they mean for the US,” Mikulska added. “While domestically the sanctions could provide some benefits for US policymakers and politicians supporting them, in terms of foreign policy they may become an issue.”

“In Germany, there is disbelief over the US sanctions package, in particular after Germany worked hard to secure Russian gas transits through Ukraine,” said Kirsten Westphal, an energy expert at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP). “There is bipartisan US support to stop the pipeline and some very harsh anti-Germany rhetoric from Trump,” she said.

Lubmin in northern Germany keeps waiting for the completion of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline

During a recent debate in the Bundestag, government representatives claimed sanctions against the investment would be treated as interference in German and European sovereignty and threatened the EU would impose retaliatory sanctions. “The narrative forming in Germany, and correctly, I believe, is that sanctions would also have a very serious impact economically this time,” Westphal said.

“At the end of the day, it is also a EU regulation and the 2019 amendment of the Gas Directive, which is simply being undermined,” she added.

The best laid plans of mice and men

Russian Energy Minister Aleksandr Novak said he had no doubt Nord Stream 2 would be completed on time. But not all agree. Mikulska points to Germany’s Bundesnetz (Federal Network Agency) decision to reject NS2’s application to be exempted from the EU directive. Gazprom is also involved in antitrust proceedings initiated in 2018 by Poland’s Office of Competition and Consumer Protection (UOKiK) against all companies involved in NS2 financing.

“These are formidable issues likely to delay the pipeline and make it more expensive,” Mikulska said.

“The question is if it is worth creating another spat between the EU and the US — especially given that both have not seen eye to eye in recent years. The differences between allies can be definitely exploited not only by Russia but also by China to the detriment of both the US and the EU,” she said, adding there were other ways the US could make it more difficult for Russian gas to gain ground in Europe, such as helping countries in the EU to diversify their natural gas infrastructure, including higher LNG capacity and interconnections.

Gazprom also still needs to finish some additional works such as rock placement and perform commissioning, Kubiak said, which, together with pipe-laying, may take at least 3-4 months, as Cherskiy and Fortuna cannot work at such speed as Allseas vessels.

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What Disbanding the Police Really Meant in Camden, New Jersey

Two schools of thought have emerged for altering US policing practices following the killing of George Floyd and widespread Black Lives Matter protests: reform the way police do their jobs, or defund or even disband police agencies.

Reform-based initiatives like 8 Can’t Wait, endorsed by Black Lives Matter activist DeRay Mckesson, call for new rules, including deescalation training for officers, bans on choke holds, and mandatory reporting on use-of-force incidents. The Justice in Policing Act, which passed the House of Representatives last week, would require racial bias training and increase funding for body cameras.

Supporters of defunding say such steps aren’t enough. Police departments in Cleveland, Chicago, and Baltimore have instituted reforms but still face accusations of police brutality. Defunding means cutting hundreds of millions from police budgets and investing in housing, addiction treatment, and mental health services. Last month, the Minneapolis City Council voted to disband its police department.

One prominent case in the debate is Camden, New Jersey, which disbanded its police force in 2012, converting it to the Camden Metro Division of the Camden County Police Department. Hundreds of officers were fired and made to reapply following new training and psychological evaluations.

At a glance, the move looks like a success. Violent crime in the city has decreased 42 percent since 2012, officials say. Former police chief Scott Thomson has lauded the restructuring and new training.

But community activists in Camden argue that disbanding the force didn’t substantively change policing. “We never really accepted it,” says Darnell Hardwick, treasurer for the Camden chapter of the NAACP. “The whole narrative that the people were in it from the beginning is a lie. What the people wanted was their own police department.”

Keith Benson, president of the Camden Education Association, one of New Jersey’s largest teacher’s unions, says the crime rate has fallen largely because gentrification is pushing out residents living on the margins. “Correlation is not causation,” he says.

Neighborhoods that were struggling with violence are being transformed. “The people are not there anymore,” Benson says. “That type of thing really has nothing to do at all with the police.”

Among their issues with the new force, activists note that while nearly 80 percent of Camden’s residents are Black or Latinx, the Metro police are mostly white and don’t live in the city. Benson argues that changes how they interact with residents.

If officers lived in the city, “you’re not just a cop. You’re also my neighbor,” Benson says. “And now you see me not as a potential criminal, but also as your neighbor.”

Another factor often overlooked in the Camden story is the increased reliance on surveillance, including license-plate-reading cameras, aerial surveillance, thermal-imaging equipment, and a city-wide web of CCTV cameras. Brendan McQuade, a professor of criminology at the University of Southern Maine who studied the Camden County Police for his book on police intelligence systems, says Metro has turned to “soft social” policing and “mass supervision.”

“There’s a danger in the ‘defund’ discussion in assuming that uniformed, armed police are bad, soft social police are good,” says McQuade. The shift to “mass supervision,” McQuade says, is a cost-saving measure and a half-hearted approach to reform.

Hardwick, the NAACP treasurer, says the surveillance is “infringing on a lot of people’s rights” and increasing the number of minor arrests. Officials argue that “the people wanted these cameras. No, the people want to be safe.”

In 2011, then governor Chris Christie proposed eliminating the Camden police department as a cost saving measure, alongside tax incentives meant to bring in new businesses. By laying off police officers and rehiring them as county employees instead of city workers, Camden saved almost $90,000 per officer. With the savings, Thomson, the chief, hired hundreds of new officers at much lower salaries. That led to a big increase in arrests and summonses for minor crimes like tinted car windows or riding a bicycle without a bell.

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One Free Press Coalition Spotlights Journalists Under Attack – July 2020

In May 2019, WIRED joined the One Free Press Coalition, a united group of preeminent editors and publishers using their global reach and social platforms to spotlight journalists under attack worldwide. Today, the coalition is issuing its eighth monthly 10 Most Urgent list of journalists whose press freedoms are being suppressed or whose cases demand justice.

Here’s July’s list, ranked in order of urgency:

1. Maria Ressa (Philippines)
Filipino-US dual citizen sentenced in cyber libel case.

On June 15, a Manila court convicted Maria Ressa, editor of the privately owned Rappler news website, and Reynaldo Santos, a former researcher at the outlet, of cyber libel. The criminal offense requires each journalist to pay $7,950 in fines and moral damages as well as serve a jail term of six months to six years. Both are free on bail pending their appeal. The case arose from an article Rappler published in 2012 about a local businessman’s alleged ties to a former judge, who was later impeached for corruption, and purported links to drug and human trafficking rings.

2. Azimjon Askarov (Kyrgyzstan)
Award-winning human rights reporter imprisoned 10 years.

June 15 marked 10 years since ethnic Uzbek Azimjon Askarov was arrested on trumped-up charges that included incitement to ethnic hatred and complicity in the murder of a police officer. A Kyrgyz court heard the final appeal in his case in May and upheld his life sentence. His health is deteriorating in detention, with limited access to medication and mistreatment by prison officials. His wife, Khadicha Askarova, has written to Kyrgyzstan’s president pleading for his release.

3. Solafa Magdy (Egypt)
Nearly four months without updates from imprisoned journalist in deteriorating health.

No one has received news from freelance reporter Solafa Magdy since March 9. She has been imprisoned alongside her husband for six months and endured deliberate medical neglect while at heightened risk of contracting Covid-19 due to overcrowding and inhumane conditions in Egypt’s prisons. Officials have again delayed trial for charges of “membership of a banned group” and “spreading false news” for her multimedia reporting on human rights and illegal immigration.

4. Abdulkhaleq Amran, Akram al-Waleedi, Hareth Hameed, and Tawfiq al-Mansouri (Yemen)
Four journalists detained five years, now sentenced to death.

On April 11, Yemeni journalists Abdulkhaleq Amran, Akram al-Waleedi, Hareth Hameed and Tawfiq al-Mansouri were sentenced to death by the Ansar Allah group, known as the Houthis, after nearly five years in detention. The journalists were charged with spreading false news “in support of the crimes of Saudi aggression and its allies against the Republic of Yemen.” In June, the UN joined over 150 organizations calling for their release. Their lawyer plans to appeal.

5. Jean Bigirimana (Burundi)
Four years without information regarding journalist’s disappearance.

July 22 marks four years since reporter Jean Bigirimana went missing in the middle of the day after leaving his home in Bujumbura. He had received a phone call from a source in the country’s national intelligence service. He was working as a newspaper and online journalist with the independent Iwacu Press Group and previously with the pro-government radio station Rema FM. He has not been seen or heard from since 2016.

6. Norma Sarabia Garduza (Mexico)
Investigation idling in case of journalist murdered at her home one year ago.

June 11 marked one year since unknown attackers shot and killed reporter Norma Sarabia in her Huimanguillo residence, yet there has been little movement in the investigation announced on Twitter by the state attorney general’s office at the time. Sarabia, 46, was a correspondent in the Tabasco town near the border with Guatemala for the newspapers Diario Presente and Tabasco HOY. She is one of 54 journalists killed in Mexico between 1992 and 2020.

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