Monday, July 20, 2015


      Uber has begun televising a new ad today. Three individuals, one each from the South Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens, testify to the near-impossibility of finding a cab in their neighborhoods. At least until Uber rode (or drove) to the rescue.

       These claims are straight-up lies.

       As it happens, I live fairly close to the South Bronx and have good friends who rent an apartment near the Grand Concourse and East 167th Street. In addition, my wife and I often take the Bx19 bus from Broadway and E. 145th Street in Manhattan to the New York Botanical Gardens in the Bronx. The Bx19’s route traverses much of the South Bronx. I can thus testify, from personal experience, that the major streets in the Bronx are well-serviced by livery vehicles that readily accept street hails. In addition, a simple Google search for car services in the 10451 zip code revealed numerous companies willing to dispatch a cab upon receiving a phone call.

      Tell me something, Mr. Plouffe. Were you as flagrantly dishonest when you ran Barack Obama’s campaign?


       Over the past week or so, the livery company, Uber, has been running a television ad on both cable and broadcast networks in the New York region. The ad isn’t intended to attract new riders. It’s meant to galvanize public opinion against legislation pending in the New York City Council. Tellingly, however, the City Council is not the villain in this piece. Instead, Uber’s vitriol is reserved for Mayor Bill de Blasio.

      This ad not only contains a remarkable number of lies of omission, but plays the race card in a heavy-handed manner.

      Six Uber “driver-partners”, all recognizably African-American or Latino, speak directly to viewers. Jashiel addresses the audience first. “People,” he explains, “have access to an Uber in places where they never thought they’d be able to be picked up.” Joel follows: “We live in five boroughs. They should be able to go anywhere they want to.” Lassana then switches topics, telling us, “We don’t just pick up people. We pick ourselves up.”

      But they can’t pick themselves up, or serve an underserved public, because De Blasio has surrendered to the taxi industry and is depriving people like Jashiel, Joel, Lassana, Luisa and Moises of the jobs they desperately need to better their lives.

      The ad is so deceptive it’s hard to know where to begin, but let’s start with the outright deceptions.

      New York City’s transportation needs, aside from the subway and bus systems, are served by the familiar yellow cabs, by the new green cabs that operate in northern Manhattan and the outer boroughs, and by livery cabs that are supposed to accept only radio calls, but have been picking up street hails for many decades. Two other categories, Black cars and limousines, are irrelevant here.

      I live in the West Harlem neighborhood of Hamilton Heights, a neighborhood supposed ill-served by the current system, but I can assure that I have never waited more than two minutes without being picked up by a cab, be it yellow, green or livery. This is equally true in the outer boroughs wherever population densities are high enough to support cruising cabs. Uber, just another livery service at bottom, adds nothing to this mix. Beyond that, a map released by Uber reveals that Uber users are concentrated in lower Manhattan and the Brooklyn waterfront across the East River. Brooklyn’s interior, Queens and the Bronx are actually blank.

      That brings me to the lies of omission. First, Uber would have you believe that drivers readily respond to calls from NYC housing projects like the Van Dyke House in Brownsville, Brooklyn. This is unbelievable on its face. It becomes even more unlikely when you factor in the first lie of omission: Uber drivers do not have to accept jobs. They can refuse a job for any reason at all, including pickups in dangerous neighborhoods.

       But that brings me to the second lie of omission. Drivers really don’t have to worry about calls to housing projects because in order to use Uber, patrons must have a smartphone and a credit card on file with the company, two barriers the very poor are unlikely to overcome. Again, as Uber’s own figures reveal, Uber customers and Uber vehicles are tightly concentrated in the lower Manhattan and the mostly-gentrified neighborhoods of northern Brooklyn.

      Two further lies of omission seal the deceptive deal.

      First, Uber’s ad would have you believe that de Blasio, a slave to the “taxi industry”, is trying to destroy Uber, but the legislation limits the growth of the entire livery sector, and only for one year while the Taxi and Limousine Commission gathers data on traffic congestion.

      Second, the spokespeople who appear in the ad claim that driving for Uber is the opportunity of a lifetime. In truth, Uber drivers throughout the country, far from lauding the company’s business model, have engaged in many protests against Uber’s practices. One common complaint is that Uber expands too rapidly, leaving drivers unable to make a living. Another complaint, that drivers are forced to accept discounts designed to increase volume, has gone unaddressed by Uber. Drivers further complain that although Uber tells its customers that the tip is included in price of a ride, drivers are only paid the amount of the fare, and that only after Uber deducts its twenty percent commission and the sales tax, another eight-and-a-quarter percent.

      I could go further, but I don’t see the need. The ad is not only deceptive with its talk of underserved neighborhoods that are not, in fact, served by Uber, but as I’ve already written, there’s not a Caucasian or an Asian in the mix. Uber is playing the race card, and playing it over and over again. I must have viewed the ad ten times in the course of a Yankees game just last night.

      The deception part would not have motivated me to write this posting. Nor would the racial implications. Travis Kalanick, Uber’s founder and CEO, is a self-identified libertarian whose online avatar reveals his head on the cover of Ayn Rand’s novel, The Fountainhead. For half-humans like Kalanick, winning is all that matters. As long as you don’t end up in prison, tactics, no matter how underhanded, are irrelevant. No, what bothers me, what motivated me to do the research and write the post, is the involvement of David Plouffe, Uber’s newly-appointed senior vice-president for policy and strategy.

      Plouffe, you see, served as Barack Obama’s campaign manager and White House advisor. He witnessed the race card used again and again to bludgeon the President. That he should now use race to advance the interests of a billionaire mogul is truly, and absolutely, disgusting.

      So, raise a glass, David, perhaps of a wine that set you back five figures. Enjoy the bespoke suits, too, and the private jet. Bathe yourself in all that money. You deserve it, bro, having paid with your soul.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015


Spot quiz: What do the following have in common?



The Telecommunications Bill

Repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act

Welfare Reform

Normalization of Trade Relations with China

The Defense of Marriage Act


All seven were Republican initiatives that could not have passed without the active support of President William Jefferson Clinton.

And yet Republicans, throughout his two terms, continually referred to Clinton as the most liberal president in American history.

Are you kidding me?

Monday, July 6, 2015


      “I have an opening statement,” he announced, his tone deep and steady.

      “You not on trial here.” Boots waited a few seconds, then resigned himself. It was Smith’s show. “Great, go ahead.”

      “The Europeans abolished slavery a century before the first African was taken from his home and carried off on European slave ships. This abolition was not the work of a single man, an Emperor or a Pope. Region by region, country by country, culture by culture the Europeans came to believe that the ownership of one man by another was sinful in the eyes of the God they worshipped. In 1102, the church in London denounced slavery. In 1315, Louis X decreed that any slave who set foot on French soil would be instantly emancipated.”

      Smith’s eyes came fully open for the first time. “Should we pity these Europeans, trapped as they were in their own morality? They needed labor to suck out the wealth of the new world and Africa was the only place that labor could be found. Thus a justification for slavery had to be created, a fig leaf to cover Europe’s moral rot. Was there ever a possibility other than racial inferiority? Other than declaring Africans to be a sub-human species with, as Supreme Court Judge Roger Taney so delicately put it, `no rights which the white man is bound to respect’?

      “And so it was passed on, from generation to generation, from century to century. Before the Civil War, the planters predict that the Africans, if freed, will slaughter all the white men and rape the white women. The same planters, after the Civil War, declare that unless Africans are suppressed, they will slaughter all the white men and rape all the white women. Fifty years later, D.W. Griffith dramatizes the myth in Birth of a Nation. A hundred years further on, a defense attorney tells a jury that a helpless white man named George Zimmerman had no option when attacked by a black savage named Trayvon Martin except to kill in self-defense.”

      Boots’s hands tightened into fists. He didn’t begrudge Smith his opinions. But he didn’t appreciate being dragged seventy-five miles to hear them, either. Meanwhile, the prick wasn’t finished.

      “Were the Pequot invited to live in that City on the Hill the Pilgrims wished to construct? Or the African slaves who would do the actual constructing? Or the Mexicans caught on the wrong side of the border after the Texas rebellion and the Mexican war? Or the Chinese who were excluded? Or the Japanese who were interned? The answer is no, of course. Racial inferiors could not be allowed to dwell in that holy city….”

      Boots could stand it no longer. “C’mon, man, gimme a fuckin’ break.”

      Kaven Smith rose to his feet, the rattle of his chains and cuffs sounding almost like applause. He raised his chin even further and his mouth curled into a sneer. “The Honorable Elijah Mohammed was right,” he finally announced. “The white man is the devil.”

Thursday, July 2, 2015


    Yesterday morning, C-Span’s Washington Journal, a viewer call-in program, had Stephen Moore as a guest. A Libertarian economist, Moore has worked, at times, for the Heritage Foundation and the Cato Institute. He founded the Club for Growth, but after being ousted, was accused of stealing the group’s mailing lists.

       At one point in his C-Span appearance, Moore railed against the inheritance tax. His father, he claimed, had put “sweat equity” into building a business for many decades and now, when he died, his estate would be taxed at a rate exceeding fifty percent. Surely, no sane human being would disagree with his (Moore’s) efforts to abolish this horrendous burden.
     Somehow, Moore failed to mention that the first $5,430,000 of any inheritance is currently exempt from federal taxation, or that a parent may gift $14,000 per year to each of his/her children without any tax consequences. But Moore, as it turns out, is a professional liar. In 2014, Moore responded to a Paul Krugman column, claiming that economic growth in low-tax states was superior to growth in high-tax states. Moore’s piece was first published in the Kansas City Star, but after some investigation, when the paper discovered that Moore’s figures were entirely bogus, the Star resolved never to publish him again.

      Yet, somehow, C-Span, in its endless quest to appear non-partisan, found him credible enough to give the man a forty-five minute platform.

      Are you kidding me?